Russia now aims to occupy all of southern Ukraine as well as taking the Donbas in the east, a top Russian commander said on Friday, indicating an expansion of Moscow’s war goals.
Maj Gen Rustam Minnekayev, the deputy commander of the Russian central military district, said one of the current objectives for Russian troops in Ukraine was to gain “full control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine”.
“Control over the south of Ukraine is another way out to Transnistria, where there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population,” he told a meeting in Yekaterinburg, quoted by Russian news agencies.
Taking enough territory to reach Transnistria in neighbouring Moldova – if that is the goal – would require Russia to not only hold the territory it has seized so far, including Mariupol, but also to make gains further west, including the city of Odesa, where there has been relatively little fighting so far.
Analysts have suggested this would be highly ambitious, especially given the recent loss of the Moskva warship which would have provided aerial cover for an invasion of the coastal city.
However, other experts have suggested that the comments merely mean Russia intends to hold on to its current gains in the south and preserve the option for a future offensive towards Transnistria.