Russia changes its goals to annex whole southern Ukraine
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the change in the “geography” of Russian interests in Ukraine. Unlike in March, when the parties were negotiating in Istanbul, this “geography” now includes not only the self-proclaimed Russian-controlled Donetsk and Lugansk Republics, but also the provinces of Kherson, Zaporiyia and “a number of other territories”. He also assured that “the process was continuing, gradually and persistently.”
Lavrov also asserted that as the West “inflates Ukraine” with more and more long-range weapons, such as HIMARS, the “geographical tasks of the special operation” will move further away from the current line.Russia established control over large swaths of Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions in late February.
As its troops sought to capture key cities in northern and eastern Ukraine, they had to withdraw from areas near Kyiv and Chernigiv and downgrade their appetites toward the southern land corridor running from Crimea to Rostov (Russia), which could also include the link to Transnistria for Odessa. However, Lavrov did not reveal what his exact plans were for annexing those territories so new details could be known later. The head of Russian diplomacy also accused Ukraine of having “no desire to discuss anything seriously.”
Kyiv and Moscow stopped negotiating a ceasefire in April after the extent of Russian atrocities in Bucha and other temporarily occupied territories in the north was revealed.
Lavrov’s statements coincided with claims by White House National Security spokesman John Kirby, who citing intelligence sources warned that Russia is preparing to annex Ukrainian territory it had occupied since the beginning of the war on February 24. The Russian Embassy in Washington responded that Moscow was “returning peace to the liberated territories” to protect the rights of the local population.
Despite Lavrov’s warnings that sending arms to Ukraine increases Russian ambitions over the neighboring country, Pentagon chief Lloyd Ostin, meeting in Rammstein, assured that the U.S. would continue to support Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. “Now is the critical phase of this conflict. And our collective support for Ukraine is vital and urgent.” He announced that Kyiv will receive four additional HIMARS systems from the United States, bringing the total number of systems it has to 16. It is also to receive ammunition for these effective rocket launchers and artillery systems delivered earlier.
Ukrainian military analyst Mykola Bielieskov notes that the decision to grant additional HIMARS systems is a natural consequence, as the Ukrainian Army demonstrated that it could use them efficiently and avoid civilian casualties when attacking Russian ammunition depots and command centers. It is likely that Ukraine used HIMARS or a similar system to attack the logistically key bridge over the Dnipro River in the city of Kherson at 4 a.m. on Wednesday.
The illegal head of the Russian-installed occupied region, Vladimir Saldo, indicated that the bridge was partially closed to large cargo movement and that only private vehicles could cross it. The bridge is one of two major crossings used by Russia to supply its troops on the western bank of the river. Ukraine seeks to disrupt Russian logistics in an effort to intensify its counteroffensive in the southern region and its positions in the east.
Meanwhile, Russia again shelled the Kharkiv residential neighborhood of Saltivka on Wednesday, killing at least 3 people. Kharkiv, the largest city in eastern Ukraine, has been trying to return to some semblance of normal life, but Russia has continued to shell it on a daily basis. While its troops are not threatening to storm the city again after being pushed back in May, Kharkiv is within range of its artillery.
Despite some earlier progress, talks between Ukraine and Russia on allowing Ukrainian grain to be exported from the country’s blockaded ports face an uncertain future. Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would only allow exports to resume in exchange for the West lifting sanctions against Russian exports that were introduced after Russia invaded Ukraine.