Ukraine war
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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service

Russia now seeking regime change in Ukraine, Lavrov says as Moscow expands war goals

  • Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow wants change of political leadership in Kyiv
  • Moscow is publicly stating its expanded war goals in the five-month-old conflict
Ukraine war

Moscow is seeking to overthrow the Ukrainian government, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, going back on earlier statements that the leadership question was up to the Ukrainian people.

“We will definitely help the Ukrainian people to free themselves from the regime that is absolutely anti-people and anti-history,” Lavrov said on Sunday, five months to the day since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian and Ukrainian people will live together in the future, he said in Cairo at the start of a diplomatic trip to Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to shore up support for Russia’s war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the war a “special military operation” and has said it is aimed at demilitarising Ukraine and rooting out dangerous nationalists. Kyiv and the West call this a baseless pretext for an aggressive land grab.

Lavrov’s remark came as the Russian leadership has publicly toughened its position in the Ukraine war in recent days.

On Wednesday, Lavrov threatened to occupy further territories outside the eastern Donbas region where most of the fighting is currently concentrated, in what would be be an expansion of the Kremlin’s previously stated war goals.

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In view of the Western deliveries of weapons and their greater range, Russia sees the need to push Ukraine’s troops further away from the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, which together make up the Donbas and which Moscow has recognised as independent.

With his announcement that he wants to change the political leadership in Kyiv, Lavrov also contradicted his own statements in April.

“We have no plans to change the regime in Ukraine,” the Russian chief diplomat said at the time in an interview with the television channel India Today. It was up to the Ukrainians to decide under which leadership they wanted to live, Lavrov asserted at the time.

The Kremlin’s plans may signal an intensification of fighting through the summer as Russia seeks to tighten its grip on territory, with little prospect for a return to peace talks that broke up without agreement early in the war.

If Russia annexes all the areas it currently holds, it would control about a fifth of Ukraine, creating a land link to Crimea and threatening a stranglehold on key Black Sea export routes. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The territories represent Putin’s “basic goals,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of political consultancy R. Politik. He continues to seek the capitulation of Ukraine as part of a broader confrontation with the West and “without this he will never declare victory,” she said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Photo: AFP

Putin may raise the stakes by declaring that annexed Ukrainian territories are covered by Russia’s nuclear shield, according to a May 13 report by the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank.

“Such actions would threaten Ukraine and its partners with nuclear attack if Ukrainian counteroffensives to liberate Russian-occupied territory continue,” it said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week that establishing a ceasefire in the war with Russia while allowing it to maintain control of parts of Ukraine would result in a prolonged conflict.

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“Freezing the conflict with the Russian Federation means a pause that gives the Russian Federation a break for rest,” Zelensky said, adding: “They will not use this pause to change their geopolitics or to renounce their claims on the former Soviet republics”.

Zelensky said Russia would use a ceasefire to regain strength and then resume its offensive against Ukraine later on.

Russia would “rest and in two or three years, it will seize two more regions and say again: freeze the conflict. And it will keep going further and further. One hundred per cent,” Zelensky said.

Ukraine has been using Western-supplied long-range weapons to hit Russian supply lines and ammunition dumps in an effort to turn the tide in the war and prepare a counteroffensive in Kherson region.

The White House announced on Friday additional heavy weapons shipments to Ukraine worth about US$270 million, bringing the total military assistance to the country to US$8.2 billion since the start of the Biden administration.

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Included in the latest package are four additional HIMARS artillery systems. Kyiv has said the US-supplied hi-tech, long-range rocket launchers will be critical to a planned counteroffensive to retake territory captured by Russian forces.

The new US package also includes 36,000 artillery shells, vehicles and up to 580 Phoenix Ghost drones.

Zelensky has said the grinding war could be over by the end of the year – if the West sticks to its promises to keep supplying Kyiv with the necessary weapons.

dpa, Reuters and Bloomberg