Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signals Putin's plan to seize Kharkiv and create a 'sanitary zone'

  • Sergey Lavrov suggested that Russia likely intended to launch an operation to seize Kharkiv.

  • He is the first senior Kremlin official to identify the city as a potential target.

  • He said the city is important in Russia's "sanitary zone" plans to protect its borders.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has strongly suggested that Russia intends to seize the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, making him the first senior Kremlin official to identify the city as a potential target outright.

During a radio interview with Russian state propagandists, Lavrov said Ukraine's second-largest city had "an important role" in Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans to create a demilitarized "sanitary zone" to protect Russian border regions from Ukrainian attacks, the think tank the Institute for the Study of War said in an update on the conflict on Friday.

Moscow has already made it clear that it believes the only way to defend Russian territory is through such a buffer zone, which would put its settlements out of reach of Ukrainian fire.

"Against the backdrop of drone attacks and the shelling of our territory: public facilities, residential buildings, measures must be taken to secure these territories," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in March.

"They can only be secured by creating some kind of buffer zone so that any means that the enemy uses to strike us are out of range," he added.

Russia has ramped up its attack on Kharkiv in recent weeks, bombarding the city with missiles, guided bombs, and drones in what officials believe is an attempt to cut the city off from supplies and force the evacuation of civilians, Bloomberg reported, citing unnamed officials.

In March, the commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, told Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform that he could not ignore reports about Russia's plans to attack Kharkiv and that his troops were preparing for such an event.

"We are carrying out a whole complex of works on the fortification of territories and positions, installing a complex system of fences, and planning the use of our troops in the event of such actions," he said.

Putin has wanted to take Kharkiv since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The city has symbolic as well as strategic value for the Russian president, as it has a majority Russian-speaking population and was the first capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Russia lost nearly all of the territory it had gained in the wider Kharkiv region in 2022 after a rapid Ukrainian counterattack resulted in one of Ukraine's most significant victories of the conflict.

During interviews with the radio stations Sputnik, Govorit Moskva, and Komsomolskaya Pravda, Lavrov also said that Russia was willing to negotiate with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy but that doing so would be "pointless for many reasons," Russian news agency Tass reported.

He added that Russia would not halt its military operation in the event of future talks.

Read the original article on Business Insider