Ukraine’s Donbas region has not yet been ‘lost’ to Russian forces, US general says

On July 4, Ukraine used US M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to attack Russian targets in the southern Zaporizhzhia Oblast. (Ukrainian Armed Forces/Cover Images/Reuters)

Russia’s objectives in Ukraine now extend beyond the eastern region of Donbass in the south of the country, a senior government minister has said.

As the war in Ukraine nears its fifth month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state media that “the geography is different”.

“It’s far from just DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) and LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic) – it’s also Kherson region, Zaporizhzhia region and a number of other territories. And this process continues, it continues steadily and persistently,” Lavrov said. in an interview with RIA Novosti, published on Wednesday.

Lavrov’s remarks signal the Kremlin’s refocused approach to the war in Ukraine.

Just three months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin shifted his military efforts to the east of the country after failing to capture Kyiv.

Earlier this month, Russian forces followed Putin’s order and captured Lysychansk, the last town in the Luhansk region still in Ukrainian hands. Their next move was to be to the neighboring Donetsk region.

If Donetsk were to fall, Moscow would invade the entire Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, home to separatist factions backed by Russia since 2014.

However, recently supplied US weapons systems worth $400 million have bolstered the Ukrainian military’s ability to shoot down Russian targets – a significant factor that has caused further problems for Moscow.

Lavrov stressed that as the West continues to supply Ukraine with more long-range weapons, including the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Russia’s geographic targets in Ukraine would move away from the current line.

“We cannot allow any weapon into the part of Ukraine controlled by Zelensky – or whoever will replace him – that poses a direct threat to our territory or the territory of the republics that have declared their independence or those that wish to determine their future in a independent,” Lavrov said.

“The president was very clear, as you quoted: denazification and demilitarization in the sense that there should be no threat to our security, no military threat from Ukrainian territory, and that goal remains,” added Lavrov.

CNN’s Rob Picheta, Tim Lister and Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.

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Christi C. Elwood