Ukraine war: Russia ‘plans to seize southern Ukraine’

Russian tanks in Ukraine
Image caption,Russia’s stated aim is to capture and control Ukraine’s eastern region of Donbas

Russia aims to seize southern Ukraine and to open a route to the separatist region of Transnistria in Moldova, a senior Russian general says.

Maj Gen Rustam Minnekayev specified that Moscow would seek to take “full control” over the south in addition to the eastern Donbas region – the stated objective of the Russian authorities.

Transnistria is a small Russian-backed region that borders Ukraine.

It is unclear if Gen Minnekayev’s comments were officially sanctioned.

Russian defence officials told the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg that they were “looking into” the general’s comments, which – if confirmed – offer the first insight into Russia’s potential plans in the coming weeks.

Moldova has summoned Moscow’s ambassador over the comments.https://buy.tinypass.com/checkout/template/cacheableShow?aid=tYOkq7qlAI&templateId=OTBYI8Q89QWC&templateVariantId=OTV0YFYSXVQWV&offerId=fakeOfferId&experienceId=EXAWX60BX4NU&iframeId=offer_0e763acc7b457c03340a-0&displayMode=inline&widget=template&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.com

Meanwhile, a senior EU official has told Reuters that Russia is likely to intensify its attacks in eastern Ukraine and along the southern coast in the coming days, adding that the next two weeks may be decisive in the war.

It comes as the BBC learned that European Council President Charles Michel has highlighted Russia’s “miscalculations and losses” in its invasion of Ukraine to President Vladimir Putin during a phone call on Friday.

A small Russian-speaking breakaway region, Transnistria borders Ukraine from the west. It claimed independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in a bloody conflict, but is not recognised internationally and officially remains part of Moldova.

A small detachment of around 1,500 Russian troops has been stationed in the region since 1995 as part of a truce agreement.

A map showing the location of Transnistria

Gen Minnekayev, who is deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, was speaking at a military event in the Sverdlovsk region.

“Control over the south of Ukraine is another way out to Transnistria, where there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population,” Gen Minnekayev said.

Mr Putin made similar claims about the alleged discrimination against Russian speakers in Ukraine before launching the invasion on 24 February.

Ukraine’s defence ministry denounced Gen Minnekayev’s comments as Russian “imperialism”.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Ukrainian officials said Russia had “acknowledged that the goal of the ‘second phase’ of the war is not victory over the mythical Nazis, but simply the occupation of eastern and southern Ukraine”.

Later the Moldovan foreign ministry released a statement saying it viewed the comments “as unfounded and contradicting Russia’s position in support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country within internationally recognised borders”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russia is planning on holding a series of sham independence referendums in occupied regions to create a series of pro-Russian breakaway states.

“If they ask you to fill out some questionnaires, leave your passport data somewhere, you should know this is not to help you,” he warned.

“This is aimed to falsify the so-called referendum on your land if an order comes from Moscow to stage such a show. This is the reality. Be careful.”

A spokesperson for the Ukrainian defence ministry said that referendums were planned in Kherson and occupied areas around Zaporizhzhia in the coming weeks.

Oleksandr Motuzianik claimed the polls will coincide with the forced conscription of some men into the Russian military.

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