As the war in Ukraine approaches its fifth month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told state media that the “geography is different.”
“It is far from being only DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) and LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic), it is also Kherson Region, Zaporizhzhia Region and a number of other territories, and this process continues, it continues steadily and persistently,” Lavrov said during an interview with RIA Novosti, published Wednesday.
Lavrov’s remarks signal the Kremlin’s refocused approach to the war in Ukraine.
Just three months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin shifted military efforts onto the country’s east after failing to capture Kyiv.
When Russian forces followed through with Putin’s order and captured the last city in Luhansk region still in Ukrainian hands – Lysychansk – earlier this month, their next move was anticipated to be in the neighboring region of Donetsk.
If Donetsk were to fall, Moscow would overrun the entire Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which has harbored Russian-backed separatist factions since 2014.
However, recently supplied US HIMARS Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) worth $400 million have bolstered the Ukrainian military’s ability to strike down Russian targets – a significant factor that has caused fresh problems for Moscow.
Earlier this month, there were huge explosions in several occupied areas in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. The available evidence, from satellite imagery and Western analysts, is that the targeting has been highly effective.
Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to the Ukrainian President’s Chief of Staff, repeated calls for more HIMARS weapons on Ukrainian television on Wednesday.
Lavrov said that as the West continues to supply Ukraine with more long-range weaponry, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Russia’s geographical objectives in Ukraine would move further away from the current line.
“We cannot allow any weapons in the part of Ukraine controlled by Zelensky or whoever will replace him that pose a direct threat to our territory or the territory of the republics that declared independence or those that wish to determine their future independently,” Lavrov said.
“The President was very clear, as you quoted: denazification and demilitarization in the sense that there should be no threat to our security, no military threat from Ukraine’s territory, and this objective remains,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov has also said that it is currently “pointless” to hold talks with Ukraine, in an interview with Russian state outlet Russia Today on Wednesday.
He accused the West of pushing Ukraine to refrain from negotiations until it can “start talking from a position of strength.”
Lavrov claimed that Russia had been ready to strike a deal with Ukraine, but that nothing came of it.
“We handed them a document which, I emphasize again, was based on their logic,” Lavrov said in the interview, which was published on the Russian Foreign Ministry website. “They got this document on April 15, and we’ve heard nothing from them since.”
“But we’ve heard other things, from Scholz, from Boris Johnson who obviously isn’t saying it now, from Ursula von der Leyen and many others, including chief diplomat Borrell, that Ukraine must win on the battlefield, that Ukraine must not negotiate now because it’s in a weak position on the frontline, and that Ukraine must first improve this position and start to dominate over the Russian armed forces, the Donetsk and Luhansk militias, and only then start talking from a position of strength,” Lavrov said.
“I think this kind of talk is for the birds, as they say,” he added.
CNN’s Rob Picheta, Tim Lister, Kostan Nechyporenko and Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.