Russia signaled that it might want a bigger share in Ukraine

Russia’s top diplomat said on Wednesday that his country’s territorial ambitions in Ukraine could expand, as European leaders warned their citizens to prepare to make sacrifices in the face of a crisis. The conflict shows no sign of ending anytime soon.

In recent months, Russian forces have focused their attacks on eastern Ukraine, where by all signs Russia is determined to annex Crimea as it did in 2014. But on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov told Russian state news agency that Moscow has now also turned its gaze to southern Ukraine, specifically naming the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions as well as “several other territories”.

“This is an ongoing process,” Lavrov said in a statement an interview with RIA Novosti.

In comments reminiscent of President Vladimir V. Putin’s justification for invasion, who argued that Western military aggression left him with no other choice, Lavrov said that allies Ukraine should be held accountable if Russia expands its military goals.

He specifically pointed to the many missile launchers that the US has begun to deliver to Ukraine, which is said to have slowed Russia’s advance by hitting targets as far away as an arsenal. US military officials said Wednesday that they plan to send four more M142 HIMARS multiple-missile launchers, as well as more of the guided missiles they fire and more guided shells.

Russian officials have offered different – sometimes contradictory – explanations of their war goals. But Western officials have always mocked Moscow’s claim that its invasion was merely an act of expansion – an attempt to regain territory lost after the fall of the Soviet Union – and on Wednesday, right even when Europe is in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave. books, they make it clear that a winter of war is ahead, warning of energy shortages and urging solidarity.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Putin is trying to motivate us this winter, and he will fail miserably if we stick together,” said Commission President. Europe, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Wednesday.

In a speech announcing the start of the full-scale invasion on February 24, Mr. Putin declared that Russia has no intention of occupying the country or “impressing anything on anyone by force.” Moscow just wants to “demilitarize” a neighbor it sees as a threat, he said. He cited the danger of NATO missiles stationed in Ukraine and aimed at Russia – even though Ukraine is not a NATO member and has no such missiles on its soil.

That story began to change when Russian forces unexpectedly stumbled in their quest to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Mr. Putin then began to emphasize that protecting Russian proxies in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and their self-proclaimed republics was the Kremlin’s main goal.

Since then, city after city in the region has been subjected to a relentless Russian attack that has razed entire neighborhoods, killed thousands of civilians and sent many others to flee. to be safe. Russian forces have taken over one of the two provinces of Donbas, Luhansk, and are now trying to get the other, Donetsk, to continue.

But Russia’s victory is not a foregone conclusion, the top US military official said on Wednesday. “No, it hasn’t been lost yet,” General Mark A. Milley said at a news conference when asked about the region’s prospects.

To the south, in Kherson, there are signs that Ukraine may be about to launch a widespread counterattack. In the last 48 hours alone, a vital bridge has been shelled, a Russian fighter jet has been shot down from the sky, an ammunition depot has been destroyed, and a group of soldiers has been attacked. Kherson, a port and shipbuilding center that Russia seized at the beginning of the war, is also the site of Russian military operations throughout southern Ukraine.

The attempt to recapture the city will have enormous symbolic value to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, but from a strategic point of view, timing can also be crucial. A spokesman for the National Security Council said this week that Russia plans to territorial annexation it was captured, including Kherson.

“Ukraine and its Western partners may have a narrow opportunity to support a Ukrainian counterattack on occupied Ukrainian territory before the Kremlin annexes that territory,” spokesman John Kirby said.

Mr. Kirby said Moscow is installing proxies who are expected to call the votes “fake” about joining Russia and force people to apply for Russian citizenship and appear to be ready to declare it. declared the ruble the official currency in the occupied territory, as it did after the seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

“Russia is starting to roll out a version of what you might call the annexation book,” Mr. Kirby said.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, denied his Russian counterpart’s signal that Moscow could expand its military goals.

Mr. Kuleba said: “By expressing his dream of capturing more Ukrainian land. on Twitter“The Russian foreign minister proves that Russia rejects diplomacy and focuses on war and terrorism. The Russians want blood, not talk.”

In an interview with a Ukrainian magazine, a top aide to Zelensky expressed hope that American weapons would arrive in sufficient numbers to allow the Ukrainian military to prevail before Russia could consolidate its gains. its own benefit.

“It is very important for us not to enter winter,” said Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak. “After winter, when the Russians will have more time to dig deeper, it will certainly be more difficult.”

Ukrainian officials have been pushing the West to provide more weapons, especially long-range rocket artillery. Their hope was that with that firepower, they might not only be able to stop Russia’s advance, but be able to regain lost territory.

Spokesperson for the southern Ukrainian forces, Natalia Humeniuk, said: “We are all working to liberate Ukraine from the enemy. “We have a single goal.”

In Wednesday’s announcement that the United States would send four more HIMARS rocket launchers, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III was uncomfortable not exaggerating their potential.

“That affects the tempo of the game, and is likely to create some chances here,” said Austin. “There is still a lot of work to be done – HIMARS alone will not change or win or lose a war.”

And the total number committed so far – 16 from the United States and a handful of similar systems from allied countries – is far less than what Ukraine and outside military experts say is needed. necessary to achieve parity on the battlefield.

However, Ukrainian forces on Tuesday used one of the launchers to attack Antonivsky Bridge in Kherson, said an adviser to the country’s interior minister. The bridge is the main transit route for Russian supplies coming from Crimea. According to the deputy head of the pro-Russian administration in Kherson, 11 more strikes occurred on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian armed forces also said they blew up a Russian radar system in Kherson using projectiles fired from a distance of more than 60 kilometers.

Ukraine is also pushing its case off the battlefield.

In Washington, their first lady, Olena Zelenska, appeared before Congress on Wednesday, a day after meeting Jill Biden at the White House, to demand more weapons to fight the “Russian hunger game” “.

In a rare appearance with her first foreign husband before Parliament, Ms. Zelenska showed photographs of children whose lives were destroyed by war. Among them is Sophia, a girl from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, who lost her mother and arm in the war.

“Russia is destroying our people,” Ms. Zelenska said.

Report contributed by Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Carly Olson, John Ismay, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Stephanie Lai, Jim Tankersley and Eric Schmitt.

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