Russia ready to expand war aims beyond Donbas, says Sergei Lavrov

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 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has indicated that Moscow will expand its war aims in Ukraine beyond the Donbas region.

Speaking to state news agency RIA Novosti on Wednesday, Mr Lavrov hinted that Russia would seek to annex the provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine almost 5 months after invading Ukraine.

Earlier this year, Vladimir Putin announced that his forces would refocus their efforts on the Donbas region following a failed attempt to capture Kyiv and northern Ukraine. His troops have since made steady gains in the eastern industrial region, capturing the entirety of the Luhansk province on July 4.

Mr Lavrov said geographical realities had changed since Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held peace talks in Turkey in late March that failed to produce any breakthrough.

At the time, he said, the focus had been on “liberating” the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), both breakaway countries controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

“Now the geography is different, it’s far from being just the DPR and LPR, it’s also Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and a number of other territories,” he said, referring to territories well beyond the Donbas that Russian forces have wholly or partly seized.

“This process is continuing logically and persistently,” he added.

Mr Lavrov claimed that Russia’s “geographical tasks” will “extend further” if the West continues to deliver long-range weapons to the Ukrainian army.

He is the most senior minister in Mr Putin’s government to openly discuss Russia’s war aims since the launch of the invasion on February 24. At the time, Mr Putin stated that he wished to “denazify” Ukraine, which western leaders dismissed as a baseless pretext for an imperial-style war of expansion.

Despite the capture of Luhansk, Russia remains far from capturing the Donbas’ other province of Donetsk. In the past few weeks it has ramped up missile strikes on cities across Ukraine.

Any annexation of further Ukraine territories would likely be modelled on the seizure of Crimea in 2014, when an illegitimate referendum showed that the majority of its residents wanted to join Russia.

The White House warned on Tuesday that Moscow was using an “annexation playbook”, using “sham referenda” to claim that Ukrainians living in occupied regions wanted to be ruled by Moscow.

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