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Russia signals it may want more of Ukraine

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

In recent months, Russian forces have focused their assault on eastern Ukraine, which by all indications appears determined to annex Crimea as it did in 2014. But on Wednesday, the foreign minister Sergei V. Lavrov told the Russian state news agency that Moscow was now also casting its gaze on part of southern Ukraine, specifically naming the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as well as “a number of ‘other territories’.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Lavrov said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

In comments recalling the justification offered for the invasion by President Vladimir V. Putin, who said Western military aggression had left him no choice, Lavrov said Ukraine’s allies were at blame if Russia expanded its military objectives.

He pointed in particular to the multiple rocket launchers the United States has begun delivering to Ukraine, which have been credited with slowing the Russian advance by hitting distant targets like ammunition dumps. US military officials said Wednesday they plan to send four more M142 HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, along with more guided rockets they fire and more guided artillery munitions.

Russian officials have given varying—sometimes contradictory—accounts of their war aims. But Western officials have consistently scoffed at Moscow’s claims that its invasion is nothing less than an act of expansion – an attempt to reclaim territory lost with the fall of the Soviet Union – and on Wednesday, then Even as Europe baked in a heatwave for the record books, they made it clear that a winter of war awaited them, warning of energy shortages and calling for solidarity.

“Putin is trying to push us around this winter, and he will fail dramatically if we stick together,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

In a speech announcing the start of the full-scale invasion on February 24, Mr Putin said Russia had no intention of occupying the country or “imposing anything on anyone”. or by force”. Moscow simply wanted to “demilitarize” a neighbor it saw as a threat, he said. He cited the danger of NATO missiles stationed in Ukraine and aimed at Russia – although Ukraine is not a member of NATO and no such missiles are on its soil.

This narrative began to change when Russian forces unexpectedly stumbled in their drive to seize the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Mr Putin then began to emphasize that protecting Russia’s proxies in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region and their self-declared republics was the Kremlin’s main objective.

Since then, city after city in the region has fallen to a relentless Russian assault that has leveled entire neighborhoods, killed thousands of civilians and sent many others fleeing to safety. Russian forces have taken control of one of the two Donbass provinces, Luhansk, and are now trying to bring the other, Donetsk, to heel as well.

But the Russian victory is not a foregone conclusion, the senior US military official said on Wednesday. “No, it’s not lost yet,” Gen. Mark A. Milley told a news conference when asked about the region’s outlook.

To the south, in Kherson, there were signs that Ukraine might be about to launch a massive counter-offensive. In the past 48 hours alone, a critical bridge has been bombed, a Russian fighter jet has been shot down from the sky, ammunition depots have been destroyed and a group of soldiers have been attacked. Kherson, a port and shipbuilding center captured by Russia early in the war, is also a staging ground for Russian military operations in southern Ukraine.

An attempt to recapture the city would have immense symbolic value for President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, but from a strategic perspective, the timing may also be critical. A spokesman for the National Security Council said this week that Russia plans to annex territories it has captured, including Kherson.

“Ukraine and its Western partners may have a narrower window of opportunity to support a Ukrainian counteroffensive in occupied Ukrainian territory before the Kremlin annexes that territory,” spokesman John Kirby said.

Mr Kirby said Moscow was installing proxies to call ‘mock’ votes on joining Russia and compel residents to apply for Russian citizenship, and that he appeared ready to declare the ruble the official currency in occupied territory , as it did after its seizure. the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

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

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, denounced the signal from his Russian counterpart that Moscow could expand its military objectives.

“Acknowledging the dreams of seizing more Ukrainian lands,” Kuleba said on Twitter, “Russian Foreign Minister proves that Russia rejects diplomacy and focuses on war and terror. The Russians want blood, not arguments.

In an interview with a Ukrainian magazine, a senior Zelensky official expressed hope that US weapons would arrive in sufficient numbers to allow Ukrainian troops to prevail before Russia could consolidate its gains.

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

Ukrainian officials have been pushing for the West to provide more weapons, especially longer-range artillery rockets. They hope that with this firepower they can not only block Russia’s advance, but also reclaim lost territory.

“We are all striving to liberate Ukraine from the enemy,” Southern Ukraine Forces spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk said this week. “We have one goal.

In announcing Wednesday that the United States was sending four more HIMARS rocket launchers, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III tried not to overstate their potential.

“It affects the tempo of the fight and potentially creates opportunities here,” Austin said. “There’s a lot more to it – HIMARS alone won’t change, win or lose a fight.”

And the total number committed so far — 16 from the United States and a smaller number of similar systems from allied nations — is far below what Ukraine and outside military experts believe is needed to achieve parity on the battlefield.

Yet Ukrainian forces on Tuesday used one of the launchers to hit the Antonivsky Bridge in Kherson, said an adviser to the country’s interior minister. The bridge served as the main transit route for Russian supplies from Crimea. Eleven more strikes hit the bridge on Wednesday, according to the deputy head of the pro-Russian administration in Kherson.

Ukraine’s armed forces also said they blew up a Russian radar system in Kherson using projectiles fired more than 60 miles away.

Ukraine was also defending its cause outside the battlefield.

In Washington, its first lady, Olena Zelenska, appeared before Congress on Wednesday, the day after her meeting with Jill Biden at the White House, to ask for more weapons to defend against the “Russian hunger games”.

In a rare appearance by a foreign first wife before Congress, Ms. Zelenska showed photographs of children whose lives had been destroyed by war. Among them was Sophia, a girl from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, who lost her mother and her arm in the war.

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

The report was provided by Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Carly Olson, Jean Ismay, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Stephanie Lai, Jim Tankerley and Eric Schmitt.


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