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Kyiv Says Russia Has 'Stopped Hiding' True Goal Of War As Fighting In East Intensifies

By RFE/RL April 22, 2022

A senior Russian military official's comments that Moscow plans to take full control of the eastern Donbas region and the southern part of Ukraine during their new offensive in the country drew a sharp reaction from Kyiv as Ukraine's General Staff said Russian forces had increased attacks along the whole front line in the east.

Rustam Minnekayev, acting commander of the Central Military District, was quoted by official Russian state media outlets on April 22 as saying that full control of southern Ukraine was a strategic goal to allow access to Moldova's pro-Russian breakaway region of Transdniester, which borders Ukraine.

Minnekayev said Russian speakers were oppressed in Transdniester. Moldova and Western leaders say that is untrue.

The comments by Minnekayev were the most detailed description yet of Russia's goals in the second phase of its invasion of Ukraine, and were highlighted by Kyiv as a sign that the Kremlin has been lying in previous statements that said it had no territorial ambitions.

"They are not going to stop. The command of the Russian central military district announced the next victim of the Russian aggression. After gaining control over the southern Ukraine, Russia plans to invade Moldova, where they say Russian speakers are being 'oppressed,'" Ukraine's Defense Ministry said on Twitter.

"They stopped hiding it," the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in another tweet. Russia "acknowledged that the goal of the 'second phase' of the war is not victory over the mythical Nazis, but simply the occupation of eastern and southern Ukraine. Imperialism as it is."

To achieve the goals Minnekayev laid out, Russia would have to push hundreds of kilometers westward beyond current lines and past the major Ukrainian cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa. A Russian occupation of the territory would cut off Ukraine's entire Black Sea coastline.

Kyiv has warned several times that Transdniester could be used as a staging area for Russian operations against Ukraine or Moldova, which shares a border and a common history with NATO member Romania.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address late on April 22 that he commander's comments showed Moscow wanted to invade other countries.

He also said allies were finally delivering the weapons that Kyiv had asked for, adding the arms would help save the lives of thousands of people.

"We will defend ourselves as long as possible...but all the nations who, like us, believe in the victory of life over death must fight with us," he said.

Ukraine's General Staff said Russian forces increased attacks along the front line after shifting troops away from the southeastern port of Mariupol.

The Mariupol mayor's office said that Russian forces had been pummeling an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters holed up inside the plant, the last known pocket of resistance in the city.

"Every day they drop several bombs on Azovstal," said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol's mayor. "Fighting, shelling, bombing do not stop."

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was ready for a cease-fire to allow trapped civilians a chance to get out but only if Ukraine's soldiers surrendered.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said "there is a possibility" a humanitarian corridor out of the besieged port city of Mariupol could be opened up on April 23.

"Watch the official announcements tomorrow morning. If all goes well, I will confirm," she said in an online address to people waiting to be evacuated.

Zelenskiy said Russia had rejected a proposed truce in Mariupol over the Orthodox Easter this weekend.

In the Kharkiv region the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had captured a large arms depot. It also reported hitting dozens of targets in the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions on April 22.

But a senior NATO official who briefed reporters on April 22 said Kharkiv had turned out to be "an incredibly difficult challenge" for Russian forces.

"Ukrainian citizens in Kharkiv have shown great ability to defend themselves in several counterattacks. The fighting there was extremely powerful," the official said, adding that the Ukrainians hold the city.

The official also said that Russia is expected to send more than a thousand mercenaries from the Vagner Group, a private military company, to fight in eastern Ukraine.

"We have already seen that the Russian private military company Vagner operates in eastern Ukraine, and we expect that they will send more mercenaries, including high-ranking members of the organization," the official said at the briefing.

Moscow is recruiting mercenaries, including foreign fighters, to make up for losses within its army, but it is unclear which of these groups will be integrated into Russian units in Ukraine and how this will affect their combat effectiveness, the official said.

Russia's current actions in the Donbas, where its troops are trying to advance towards Kramatorsk, point to even more aggressive operations in the future, the official added.

With fighting intensifying, the Russian government and the United Nations announced that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week in an attempt to discuss bringing peace to Ukraine.

Before the announcement Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said discussions had stalled, but Vladimir Medinsky, Putin's aide and Russia's lead negotiator at the talks with Ukraine, confirmed reports that he had held several lengthy conversations on April 22 with the head of the Ukrainian delegation, but he did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, the United Nations human rights office in Geneva said there was growing evidence that Russia's actions in Ukraine may amount to war crimes.

In the town of Bucha, near Kyiv, a UN mission has documented that 50 civilians had been killed there, including by summary execution, it said.

Russian officials have denied that their soldiers killed any civilians there and accused Ukraine of staging the atrocities.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak Reuters, AFP, CNN, BBC, and AP

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-mariupol- zelenskiy-resistance/31815860.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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