A senior Russian diplomat has said Moscow’s main goal in Ukraine is to remove its “unacceptable regime” from power, expressing the Kremlin’s military goals in the crudest terms as its forces bombard the country with massive bombardments.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remark came amid Ukraine’s efforts to restart grain exports from its Black Sea ports, which would help alleviate global food shortages, in line with a new deal tested by a Russian strike on Odessa over the weekend.
After a failed attempt to take over much of the country in a February invasion, Moscow officials said the aim of Russia’s aggression against its western neighbor was to “liberate” Kremlin-backed and equipped separatists in the Donbass’ eastern industrial region.
However, this target has recently been extended to parts of southern Ukraine, such as the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, while many believe that Moscow also has the Black Sea port of Odessa in its sights.
Speaking to envoys at the Arab League summit in Cairo late Sunday night, Lavrov accused Kyiv and its Western allies of propaganda aimed at making Ukraine “become Russia’s eternal enemy.”
“We are determined to help the people of eastern Ukraine free themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime,” he said.
Assuming that Moscow’s war is aimed at pushing beyond the Ukrainian industrial Donbass to the east, Lavrov said: “We will certainly help the Ukrainian people get rid of a regime that is absolutely anti-people and anti-historical.”
Lavrov’s remarks ran counter to the Kremlin’s line at the start of the war, when he repeatedly stressed that Russia was not seeking to overthrow President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government even if Moscow’s troops moved closer to Kyiv.
Later, Russia retreated from the capital and focused on the capture of Donbass. The fighting has been going on for six months now.
Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian security officials have alleged that Moscow actually sent special units tasked with capturing or killing the Ukrainian president in Kyiv early in the war.
Now Lavrov claimed that Russia was ready to conclude a ceasefire agreement in March when Kyiv reversed course and announced its intention to crush Russia on the battlefield. He said the West encourages Ukraine to keep fighting.
“The West insists that Ukraine should not start negotiations until Russia is defeated on the battlefield,” Lavrov said.
Export of grain is up in the air
It is not yet clear when grain deliveries will resume after Russia and Ukraine signed agreements with the UN and Turkey on Friday.
The deals are aimed at clearing the way for the shipment of millions of tons of much-needed Ukrainian grain, as well as the export of Russian grain and fertilizers.
Deputy Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine Yuriy Vaskov said that the first shipment of grain is scheduled for this week.
While Russia was accused of making the attack on the port of Odessa over the weekend tantamount to giving up on the deal, Moscow insisted that the strike would not affect grain shipments.
During a visit to the Republic of the Congo on Monday, Lavrov repeated the Russian military’s claim that the attack had targeted a Ukrainian navy boat and a warehouse of Western-supplied Harpoon anti-ship missiles. According to him, the attack took place in the military part of the port at a “considerable distance” from the grain terminal.
“We did not create obstacles to the supply of grain in accordance with the agreements signed in Istanbul,” Lavrov said. According to him, there is nothing in the agreements that would prevent us from continuing the special operation and destroying military infrastructure and other military installations.
The Foreign Minister also planned to visit Uganda and Ethiopia in what was seen as an attempt to bolster non-Western and African support for Russia, especially for the upcoming UN votes.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow was not interested in cutting off all gas supplies to Europe and that the recent restrictions on the flow “are simply the consequences of restrictions that the Europeans have imposed, and the Europeans themselves are suffering from these restrictions.”
“Russia is a responsible gas supplier, and no matter what anyone says, the European Commission, in European capitals, in the United States, Russia has been and remains a country that largely guarantees the energy security of Europe,” Peskov said.
Hours later, Russian gas giant Gazprom said it would further reduce the flow of natural gas through its main gas pipeline to Europe to 20% of capacity, citing equipment repairs.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian president’s office said on Monday that at least two civilians had been killed and 10 injured in Russian shelling in the previous 24 hours.
In the east of the Donetsk region, at the center of the Russian offensive, Russian artillery hit the cities of Avdiivka, Kramatorsk and Konstantinovka. As a result of an air strike on Bakhmut, at least five houses were damaged.
“The Russians are using scorched earth tactics throughout the Donbass. They fire from the ground and from the air to wipe out entire cities,” Pavel Kirilenko said in a televised address to the government of Donetsk.
The Russians also attacked the Kharkov region. In Chuhuiv, workers searched for people believed to be trapped under rubble after 12 rockets hit the city before dawn, damaging a cultural center, a school and other infrastructure, authorities said.
“All these years, our society, residents have been creating and building comfortable living conditions,” Mayor Galina Minayeva said. “And now the enemy is destroying all this, killing children, civilians. It’s very difficult to describe it all.”
Kharkiv Governor Oleg Sinegubov said: “It’s like a deadly lottery when no one knows where the next blow will be.”
In other developments, Russia said it thwarted an attempt by Ukrainian military intelligence to convince Russian military pilots to hand over their planes to Ukraine.
Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, the successor to the KGB, said Ukrainians offered Russian pilots money and European Union citizenship.
In a video released by the FSB, a man posing as a Ukrainian intelligence officer offered a pilot $2 million (about 2 million euros) to hand over his plane during a mission over Ukraine.
Russian state television said the Ukrainians were aided by Western intelligence agencies. The Russian claims cannot be independently verified.