Ajor-General Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of the Central Military District, said one of the current goals of Russian troops is to gain “full control over Donbass and southern Ukraine.”
“Control of southern Ukraine is another way out to Transnistria [in neighbouring Moldova, to the west]where there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population,” he said at a meeting, quoted by Russian news agencies.
Taking enough territory to physically reach Transnistria – if that is the goal – would require Russia not only to hold the territory it has conquered so far, but also to make gains farther west, including the city of Odessa, where there has been relatively little fighting has given .
Analysts have said that would be very ambitious, especially given the recent loss of the Moskva warship, which would have helped provide air cover for an invasion of the coastal city.
However, other experts have suggested that the comments suggest that Russia intends to hold on to its current gains in the south and keep the option of a future offensive against Transnistria alive.
“My interpretation of Minnekayev’s statement is that Russia intends to hold on to what it has taken in the South (which is widely accepted at this point) and seeks to pressure Ukraine on the economic front over time including through a blockade,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at the Center for a New American Security in the US.
Transnistria is a separatist exclave in Moldova, a former Soviet state that has been in a frozen conflict for nearly 30 years. The unrecognized breakaway state borders Ukraine to the east and has been under Moscow control for years, but military conflict there ended in 1992.
Claims of “oppression” of Russian speakers there mirror identical claims made by Wladimir Putin, the Russian President, on alleged discrimination in Ukraine before starting the war. Major General Minnekayev also reiterated the idea of allying with Russia’s annexed Crimea region, something Moscow has been pushing for since the beginning of the war.
He said: “Control of the Donbass would allow us to build a land bridge to Crimea and be able to oversee the vital infrastructure of the Ukrainian armed forces and the Black Sea ports that handle agricultural and metal exports to other countries.”
Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 but has struggled to fully integrate it into Russia as it remains separated from the Black Sea except for a bridge built in 2018.
Major General Minnekayev’s comments were the most detailed description yet of Russia’s goals in the “second phase” of its operation, which was imposed on the Kremlin after Ukraine’s stubborn resistance around the capital, Kyiv.
The Defense Ministry of Ukraine condemned Major General Minnekayev’s remarks as Russian “imperialism”.
Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, dismissed the Russian military plan.
“We have our own scenarios for defending Ukraine, and I would like to point out that many Kremlin plans have already been ruined by the work of our army and people,” he said.
Russian forces in Ukraine may have claimed as many as 20,000 casualties, according to a report briefly published yesterday on a pro-Kremlin website. It was quickly shut down again, with the website claiming it was hacked. The post on Russian social media network VK said more than 13,000 soldiers had been killed in Ukraine and 7,000 were missing in action.
The Kremlin’s stated goals for the devastating war in Ukraine have changed significantly since the invasion began in February.
Putin originally claimed he had no intentions of occupying the neighboring country. However, much of southern Ukraine has been under de facto Russian occupation for almost two months, with the Russian military raising its flag over Ukrainian cities and in some places using pro-Russian mayors to replace local legitimate authorities. Russian troops face fierce hostility from civilians in southern Ukraine, with residents taking to the streets in pro-Ukraine rallies and confronting Russian tanks.
Yesterday, Mr Zelensky warned that Russia plans to hold a series of sham independence referendums to legitimize its control of southern cities like Kherson, the first major city to fall to Russian forces.
Russia has already hoisted its flag over the city and waged a campaign of terror against anyone who opposes Moscow’s war. Mr Zelenskyy warned: “No ‘Kherson People’s Republics’ will fly,” he said.
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/russian-commander-outlines-ambitious-strategy-with-inroads-to-moldovan-territory-transnistria-part-of-blueprint-41579297.html The Russian commander outlines an ambitious strategy, with the push into Moldova’s Transnistria territory part of the blueprint