Lavrov says Russia's territorial ambitions in Ukraine go beyond the Donbas
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia's military ambitions extend beyond the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
Why it matters: Lavrov's comments are a departure from earlier claims that Russia did not intend to occupy Ukraine or “impose anything on anyone by force." They also match the reality on the ground, and come a day after the U.S. said intelligence shows the Kremlin is planning to annex multiple Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine.
- Russia took control of most of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine in the early days of the war.
- After failing to capture the capital Kyiv, Moscow turned its full attention to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in April, with Vladimir Putin defining his war aims as the "liberation" of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia has since cemented its control of Luhansk and is now focusing on Donetsk.
What they're saying: "Now the geography is different, it's far from being just the [Donetsk] and [Luhansk], it's also Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and a number of other territories," Lavrov told Russia state news agency RIA Novosti. "This process is continuing logically and persistently."
- Lavrov added that peace talks make no sense at the moment, repeating Russian claims that Western governments are encouraging Ukraine to fight instead of going to the negotiating table. He specifically mentioned U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which have allowed Ukraine to strike Russian targets far beyond the frontlines.
- He also warned that Russia's territorial ambitions may extend further west as the war progresses.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba responded on Twitter, saying: "By confessing dreams to grab more Ukrainian land, Russian Foreign Minister proves that Russia rejects diplomacy and focuses on war and terror. Russians want blood, not talks."
- Kuleba called on "all partners to step up sanctions pressure on Russia and speed up arms deliveries to Ukraine."
The big picture: White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Tuesday that U.S. intelligence shows Russia "is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an annexation playbook, very similar to the one we saw in 2014" in Crimea.
- "We know their next moves," he added, claiming the proxy Russian governments would organize fake referenda followed by an "illegal land grab."
- If Russia were to annex the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions, it would connect Russia with the Crimean peninsula and fundamentally shift the outlook for any peaceful resolution to the war.