Zelenskiy only warns start of Ukraine invasion as Russia signals push south | Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned that Russia’s invasion of his country is just the start and that Moscow may seek to capture other countries, after a Russian general said he wanted completely control southern Ukraine.

“All nations that, like us, believe in the victory of life over death must fight with us. They must help us, because we are the first. And who will come next? Zelenskiy said in a video address Friday evening.

His comments come after Rustam Minnekayev, the acting commander of the Central Military District, said the aim of the new Russian offensive was to take over southern Ukraine and form a land bridge to Crimea, indicating that Russia planned a permanent occupation of the Ukrainian territory taken in the war.

Minnekayev also told members of a defense industry forum on Friday that control of southern Ukraine would give Russia access to Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, indicating that Russia could attack the port city of Odessa or launch an economic blockade of the region. .

The remarks directly contradict Vladimir Putin’s earlier claims that Russia had no plans to occupy Ukrainian cities permanently and suggest the Kremlin is changing tactics after its failed offensive against kyiv, which appeared to be seeking regime change.

The statement was the first from a senior official on the Russian military’s aims to occupy the territory as it maneuvers for an anticipated “battle for Donbass” in eastern Ukraine.

“Since the start of the second phase of the special operation…one of the tasks of the Russian military has been to establish full control over Donbass and southern Ukraine. This will provide a land corridor to Crimea, as well as vital objects of the Ukrainian economy, the Black Sea ports through which agricultural and metallurgical products are supplied to [other] country,” Minnekayev said Friday at the annual meeting of the Union of Defense Industry Enterprises of Russia’s Sverdlovsk region.

Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014, a decision not recognized by the international community.

Russia’s campaign in southern Ukraine was more successful than its attempts to take kyiv from the north, although it also encountered fierce resistance there from Ukrainian troops. Russia has occupied the city of Kherson and claimed near total control of Mariupol, as it plans a pincer attack on Ukrainian forces in the eastern region of Donbass.

Zelenskiy accused Russia of planning to “falsify” an independence referendum in the partially occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, by telling Ukrainians not to give personal information to the occupying forces.

On Friday, the Kremlin declined to answer questions about Minnekayev’s comments, saying the Russian Defense Ministry was responsible for the “special operation,” i.e., Russia’s war in Ukraine.

It’s unclear whether Minnekayev was revealing details about Russia’s official plans for its offensive or expressing his personal views on the merits of the Russian military offensive.

map of russia invasion of ukraine

Minnekayev, the acting commander of one of Russia’s four military districts, also said that “control of southern Ukraine will give another access point to Transnistria, where facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population were also observed.

“Apparently we are now at war with the whole world,” Minnekayev said.

If true, it could indicate that Russia is seeking to take Odessa, one of Ukraine’s largest cities, and seeking to strengthen its positions in Transnistria, a Russian-held territory in Moldova that has hosted Russian troops since. the fall of the Soviet Union.

With Russian support, Transnistria fought a war against Moldova in the 1990s that left the territory with de facto independence and a garrison of 1,500 Russian soldiers. The region is recognized as part of Moldova. The Unrecognized State is heavily influenced internationally by nostalgia for the Soviet Union and its affinity for Russia, fueled by state propaganda.

The Moldovan foreign ministry said it had summoned the Moscow ambassador on Friday to express its “deep concern” at the general’s remarks. Moldova was neutral, he said. Last month, the country applied to join the European Union, charting a pro-Western path accelerated by the Russian invasion.

It is unlikely that the Russian forces, which suffered heavy casualties early in the war, will be able to stage an offensive towards Odessa just yet, let alone the border with Moldova. Russian warships have been driven away from Ukrainian shores after the cruiser Moskva, a Russian flagship, sank in the Black Sea last week. Ukraine claimed it attacked the cruiser with anti-ship missiles.

On Friday night, the Russian Defense Ministry said one sailor died and 27 were missing after the Moskva fire, with 396 others rescued.

Analysts said Minnekayev’s statement could mean Russia would target the economy of Odessa and the surrounding region rather than launch an attack on the city. Russian forces had already been repelled in a Ukrainian counteroffensive last month and may be near exhaustion.

“My interpretation of Minnekayev’s recent statement is that Russia intends to hold on to what it took from the south (widely assumed at this point) and try to pressure Ukraine over time. on the economic front, including via a blockade,” Michael Kofman, research program director for the Russia Studies program at CNA, an Arlington, Va.-based research and analysis organization, wrote on Twitter. .

“I am skeptical of any new major offensive beyond Donbass given the current casualties and force availability constraints,” he added.

In other developments:

  • UN Secretary General António Guterres will visit Ukraine on Thursday, where he will meet Zelenskiy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, his office confirmed. The visit will take place two days after Guterres travels to Moscow to meet Putin.

  • Russia Seeks to ‘Starve Defenders and Remaining Civilians in Mariupol’s Azovstal Steel Mill and they are unlikely to allow trapped civilians to leave,” the Institute for the Study of War wrote in its latest analysis of the conflict.

  • Another mass grave was discovered outside Mariupol, reported the Associated Press, citing the city council and an adviser to the mayor. The city council released a satellite photo provided by Planet Labs showing what it said was a 45-by-25-meter mass grave that could hold the bodies of at least 1,000 Mariupol residents outside the village of Mariupol. Vynohradne.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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