Russia’s Territorial Aims in Ukraine Have Expanded, Lavrov Says

Russia’s ambitions in Ukraine now stretch beyond the country’s eastern territories, the country’s foreign minister said Wednesday, a departure from the Kremlin’s earlier claims that it is not waging a war of imperial expansion.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told RIA Novosti, the Russian state news agency, that Russia’s territorial aims have changed to include a swath of the south as peace negotiations have failed and the situation on the ground has changed.

“This is an ongoing process,” said Mr. Lavrov, adding that Russia’s objectives could expand further if Western countries deliver more long-range weapons to Ukraine.

He specifically mentioned the HIMARS multiple rocket launchers that the United States has delivered to Ukraine and which have been instrumental in limiting Russian advances by hitting faraway targets, including munitions depots and key infrastructure facilities.

As Ukraine has stepped up attacks on Russian forces in southern Ukraine in a possible prelude to a large-scale counteroffensive, Mr. Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow now is also eying the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine’s south, parts of which are occupied by the Russian forces, as well as “a number of other territories.”

In his February speech announcing the invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin claimed that Russia did not intend to occupy the country or “impose anything on anyone by force” but rather to “demilitarize” Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government and its Western allies have dismissed Mr. Putin’s rationale as pretext. Ukrainian officials have said that Russia’s aims have been clear from the outset and remain unchanged: the destruction of Ukraine as a sovereign nation and the annihilation of Ukrainian culture, evidenced by Russia’s unrelenting bombardment, naval blockade on Ukrainian ports and the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia.

After Russia failed to swiftly capture Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv in the initial stage of the war, Moscow’s narrative began to shift, with Mr. Putin citing the protection of pro-Russia breakaway republics in the country’s eastern Donbas region as the Kremlin’s main aim.

Since scaling back its publicly stated ambitions, Moscow redirected the bulk of its combat forces to a grueling campaign aimed at claiming territory in the east. After seizing control of Luhansk Province, which with neighboring Donetsk Province makes up the Donbas, Russia has not made any notable gains in more than two weeks.

The Russian government has been under pressure from pro-war military bloggers, an increasingly vocal group that has criticized the army’s performance and kept pushing the Kremlin to expand its territorial ambitions.

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