July 20 (BP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday said that Moscow will expand its objectives in Ukraine outside of the Donbas region which has served as the center for fighting.
Lavrov told Russian state media that the “geography is different” now that the conflict that began when Russia invaded Ukraine in February has entered its fifth month.
“It is far from being only DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) and LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic) it is also the Kherson Region, Zaporizhzhia Region and a number of other territories and this process continues, it continues steadily and persistently,” Lavrov said, signaling a focus on areas in southern Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials said that Russian forces conducted military operations near the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk, in order to advance and seize the Vuhlehirska thermal power plant.
Wednesday’s moves came after Russian forces launched attacks on the cities of Kramatorsk and nearby Sloviansk in the Donbas region injuring multiple people and trapping others under rubble, according to Ukrainian officials.
Russia has focused its efforts on the Donbas, which includes the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, which are partially separatist-held and have been recognized as independent Republics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
However, the Ukrainian military’s ability to strike down Russian targets has been bolstered by recently supplied US HIMARS Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, worth $400 million.
Also Wednesday, Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska said the nation needs more weapons to stop “this terror against Ukrainians,” during testimony before the U.S. Congress.
Lavrov said Russia’s geographical objectives in Ukraine would have to shift as the West continues to supply Ukraine with long-range weaponry.
“We cannot allow any weapons in the part of Ukraine controlled by Zelensky or whoever will replace him that pose a direct threat to our territory or the territory of the republics that declared independence or those that wish to determine their future independently,” he said.
Lavrov also accused the West of encouraging Ukraine to avoid negotiations until it can “star talking from a position of strength,” saying that it was currently “pointless” to hold talks.
Putin on Wednesday echoed that sentiment, alleging that Ukraine did not want to pursue a preliminary peace deal with Russia in March and that there was “no such desire” to reach a deal now.
“There were well-known negotiations in Istanbul, when we actually reached an agreement, it only remained to initiate it,” said Putin.
He added that Russian forces had withdrawn from the area around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in order to “create these conditions.”
Putin did, however, say Russia is prepared to “facilitate” grain exports from Ukraine in exchange for relaxing restrictions on Russian grain exports.