Moscow plans to take full control of the eastern Donbas region and the southern part of Ukraine, a senior Russian military official said.
Rustam Minnekayev, acting commander of the Central Military District, was quoted by official Russian state media outlets on April 22 as saying that full control of southern Ukraine was a strategic goal to allow access to Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway region of Transdniester, which borders Ukraine.
The comments by Minnekayev were the most detailed description yet of Russia’s goals in the second phase of its invasion of Ukraine, and were highlighted by Kyiv as a sign that the Kremlin has been lying in previous statements that said it had no territorial ambitions.
“They are not going to stop. The command of the Russian central military district announced the next victim of the Russian aggression. After gaining control over the southern Ukraine, Russia plans to invade Moldova, where they say Russian speakers are being ‘oppressed,'” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Twitter.
Kyiv has warned several times that Transdniester could be used as a staging area for Russian operations against Ukraine or Moldova, which shares a border and a common history with NATO member Romania.
Moscow-backed separatists in Transdniester, a sliver of land between the Dniester River and the Moldovan–Ukrainian border, declared independence in 1990 over fears that Moldova would seek reunification with Romania.
The two sides fought a short war in 1992 that was quelled by the intervention of Russia on the side of the separatists. Russia still has more than 1,000 soldiers in Transdniester, where it also controls huge Soviet-era munitions depots.
To have land access to Transdniester, the Russian Army would have to capture the cities of Odesa and Mykolayiv.
The Donbas region includes the areas of Luhansk and Donetsk, where Kremlin-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Minnekayev’s comments came a day after President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russian forces had “liberated” Mariupol following almost two months of intense shelling that has caused thousands of deaths and widespread destruction in the city with a prewar population of some 400,000.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has dismissed the Russian claim, saying Mariupol “continues to resist.”
Zelenskiy also said Russia’s gains in the east will only be temporary, after the invading forces reportedly took more than 40 villages on April 21.
Meanwhile, the United Nations human rights office in Geneva said there was growing evidence that Russia’s actions in Ukraine may amount to war crimes.
Reported by RFE/RL