Russia is expanding Ukraine’s war aims in the fight against toll increases

Ukrainian forces said Thursday they had killed 111 Russian soldiers in the south and east over the past day, as comments from Russia’s foreign minister showed the Kremlin’s targets had grown during the five-month war.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state news agency RIA Novosti on Wednesday that Russia’s military “tasks” in Ukraine now extend beyond the eastern Donbass region.

Lavrov also said that if the West continues to supply Kyiv with long-range weapons such as the US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), Moscow’s targets will be further expanded.

“That means the geographic tasks will extend even further from the current line,” he said.

The Russian-installed administration in Ukraine’s partially occupied Zaporizhia region said Ukraine carried out a drone attack on a nuclear power plant there, but the reactor was not damaged.

Multiple explosions were also heard in the Russian-controlled southern Kherson region overnight and into Thursday, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports. Ukrainian officials had no immediate comment.

The Ukrainian military reported heavy and sometimes deadly Russian shelling amid what they described as largely failed attempts by Russian ground forces to advance.

In the previous 24 hours, Ukrainian forces said they destroyed 17 vehicles, some of them armored, and killed more than 100 Russian soldiers.

In a Facebook post, the armed forces said they saw no sign the Russians were forming special strike groups to press ahead with a new offensive.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.

Russia’s invasion has killed thousands, displaced millions and leveled cities, particularly in the Russian-speaking areas of eastern and southeastern Ukraine.

It has also raised global energy and food prices and increased fears of famine in poorer countries, as Ukraine and Russia are both big grain producers.

The United States estimates that Russian casualties in Ukraine so far have reached around 15,000 dead and perhaps 45,000 wounded, CIA Director William Burns said Wednesday.

Russia keeps military deaths a state secret, even in peacetime, and has not frequently updated its official wartime casualty figures.

The United States, which said on Tuesday it saw signs Russia was preparing to officially annex territory it has seized in Ukraine, vowed it would oppose an annexation.

“Once again we have made it clear that forcible annexation would be a gross violation of the UN Charter and we would not allow it to go unchallenged.

“We would not allow it to go unpunished,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday at a regular daily briefing.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and supports Russian-speaking breakaway entities — the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) — in these provinces, collectively known as Donbass.

Lavrov is the senior figure to speak openly about Russia’s territorial war goals, nearly five months after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on February 24 and denied that Russia intends to occupy its neighbor.

Then Putin said his goal was to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine — a statement dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a pretext for an imperial expansionist war.

Lavrov told RIA Novosti that geographical realities had changed since Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held peace talks in Turkey in late March that failed to yield a breakthrough.

“Now the geography is different, it’s far more than just the DPR and the LPR, it’s also the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions and a number of other areas,” he said, referring to areas far beyond the Donbass that the Russian armed forces fully or partially conquered.

Meanwhile, concerns that Russian gas supplies through Europe’s largest pipeline could be halted by Moscow prompted the European Union to tell member states to cut gas consumption by 15 percent by March as an emergency measure.

“Russia is blackmailing us. Russia uses energy as a weapon,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, describing a complete disruption to Russian gas flows as “a likely scenario” for which “Europe must be ready”.

Putin had earlier warned that gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which has been closed for maintenance for 10 days, risk being cut further. The pipeline is scheduled to start operating again on Thursday.

Russia, the world’s largest gas exporter, has denied Western accusations of using its energy supplies as a means of coercion, saying it has been a reliable energy supplier.

As for its oil, Russia will not send supplies to the world market if a price cap is set below the cost of production, Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak as saying on Wednesday.

At the meeting of EU diplomats in Brussels, a new round of sanctions against Moscow was agreed, including a ban on imports of gold from Russia and an asset freeze of leading lender Sberbank. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed the sanctions as insufficient.

“Russia must feel a much higher price of war to force it to seek peace,” Zelenskyy said in a late-night video address. Russia is expanding Ukraine’s war aims in the fight against toll increases

Fry Electronics Team

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