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Russia eyes up Ukrainian territory beyond Donbas
Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has made the clearest expression yet of Moscow's growing aims in the Ukraine war.
On Wednesday, Lavrov said his country's military will now venture beyond eastern Ukraine, as their “geographical objectives” are no longer limited to the eastern Donbas region.
Speaking to Russian state media, Lavrov claimed peace talks made no sense at the moment, as the West was pushing Ukraine to fight rather than the negotiating table.
Russia wanted "blood, not talks", said Ukraine's foreign minister in response.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly denied wanting to occupy Ukraine. He then said his aim was to "demilitarise" and "denazify" Ukraine in a "special military operation".
Both Kyiv and the West dismissed this as a pretext for an imperial-style war of expansion.
But Lavrov said geographical realities had changed since failed peace talks in Turkey in late March, which did not produce any breakthrough.
At the time, he said Russia was focusing on the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR) in eastern Ukraine.
"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," Lavrov said, referring to areas outside the Donbas which Russian forces are battling to capture.
His comments come as Ukrainian missiles struck a strategically important bridge on the Dnipro River in the Kherson region
Kherson — site of a major ship-building industry at the confluence of the Dnipro River and the Black Sea near Russian-annexed Crimea — is one of several areas a US government spokesman said Russia is trying to take over now.
White House national security council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that Russia could hold a “sham” public vote to annex the Kherson region as soon as September.
Ukraine’s presidential office meanwhile said at least 13 civilians were killed and a further 40 wounded by Russian shelling across the country between Tuesday and Wednesday.
The UN's Refugee Agency said that more than 9.5 million border crossings from Ukraine had been recorded since the Russian invasion began.
Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, also addressed the US Capitol on Wednesday, calling for more air defence systems to protect her country’s skies.
West to allow Ukraine more time to pay its debts
A group of Western creditors agreed on Wednesday to postpone interest payments on Ukraine's debt, following a request from Kyiv and urged other Ukrainian bondholders to do the same.
France, the United States, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom are among those who have granted Ukraine debt relief.
“In these exceptional circumstances and in recognition of Ukraine 's exemplary debt servicing record to date, members of Ukraine's Creditors Group support Ukraine 's solicitation,” the group said in a joint press release.
The servicing of Ukrainian debt will be suspended from August 1 until the end of 2023, according to the group.
There will be at least “the possibility of an additional year”, it added.
When questioned by reporters, the General Directorate of the French Treasury refused to say how much money was concerned.
Ukraine's economy has collapsed since the start of the war and could see its GDP nose dive by 45 per cent this year, according to the latest World Bank estimates from June.
“We also strongly encourage other creditors to quickly reach an agreement with Ukraine on a suspension of debt service,” the group of Ukraine creditors said.
Steps to postpone Ukraine's obligations to pay off its debts could save the country up to at least $3 (€2.95) billion over two years, report Bloomberg.
Besides the group of five creditor countries, 15 others have signed the agreement as "observers", meaning they support the initiative but are not creditors of Ukraine.
Syria formally breaks diplomatic ties with Ukraine
Syria said Wednesday it is formally breaking diplomatic ties with Ukraine, following a similar move by Kyiv.
In June, Damascus said it recognised the “independence and sovereignty” of Ukraine’s Russia-backed eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, becoming the first country in the world to do so. North Korea recently followed suit.
Ukraine to sever ties with Syria in response.
“The Syrian Arab Republic has decided to break diplomatic relations with Ukraine in conformity with the principle of reciprocity," a Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said.
It added that Ukraine had in reality severed ties with Syria in 2018, when it refused to renew the residencies of Syrian diplomatic staff in Kyiv, making it impossible for them to carry out their duties.
This led the Syrian embassy to suspend its duties at the time, “as a result of the hostile attitudes of the Ukrainian government.”
Syria is a staunch ally of Russia, which helped President Bashar Assad in his fight against rebels in 2015, tipping the balance in his favour.
EU prepares for Russian gas cutoff
The European Commission has insisted that EU member states reduce natural gas consumption by 15 per cent over the coming months.
Brussels wants countries to ration gas and avoid Russian energy imports in a bid to ensure they can cope in the event of a total gas shut-off this winter.
“Russia is using energy as a weapon and therefore, in any event, whether it's a partial major cut off of Russian gas or total cut off... Europe needs to be ready," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
In a draft plan seen by reporters, the Commission is asking member states to turn down the heating and air-conditioning in public and commercial buildings.
Russia has begun reducing its gas exports to EU members, including Germany, and in the case of Bulgaria, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark, halting them altogether.
This follows Western sanctions in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine this February.