Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy seized Friday on remarks by a Russian general as evidence that Moscow will invade other countries if it succeeds in Ukraine. The general had said Russia aimed to capture all of southern and eastern Ukraine and link it up with a breakaway province in neighboring Moldova.
“This only confirms what I have already said multiple times: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was intended only as a beginning,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening address.
He said the comments earlier Friday by Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, showed that Russia would not stop with Ukraine.
Russian state news agencies quoted Minnekayev as saying that Moscow wanted to seize Ukraine’s entire eastern Donbas region, provide a land corridor to link up with the Crimean Peninsula, and capture the country’s entire south as far west as a breakaway, Russian-occupied region of Moldova. That would mean carrying the offensive hundreds of miles past the current lines and to the border with Moldova.
Moldova summoned Russia’s ambassador Friday to express “deep concern” about the general’s comments.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter declined to comment on the Russian general’s statement but said Washington firmly supported Moldova’s sovereignty.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said the comments by the Russian general showed Russia’s previous claims that it has no territorial ambitions were not true.
“They stopped hiding it,” Ukraine’s defense ministry said on Twitter, adding that 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. Imperialism as it is.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin previously said Russia had no intention of permanently occupying Ukranian cities. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, a move that was widely condemned by the international community.
Russia’s defense ministry, meanwhile, acknowledged Friday for the first time that the crew of the missile cruiser Moskva suffered casualties when it sank last week.
It said one serviceman died and 27 went missing during the ship’s sinking.
Ukraine and the United States said Ukrainian cruise missiles had hit the ship, while Russia blamed the sinking on a fire.
Following the incident, Russia said the entire crew of the ship had been rescued.
Moscow said Friday that 396 crew members had been rescued.
The Pentagon said Friday that U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would meet next week in Germany with defense officials and military leaders from more than 20 countries to discuss Ukraine’s defense needs.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said about 40 nations were invited to the meeting and that responses were still arriving.
He said the talks, which will include both NATO and non-NATO countries, would be held Tuesday at Ramstein Air Base.
Zelenskyy said Friday that allies were finally delivering the weapons that Ukraine had sought to defend itself.
Canada announced Friday that it had provided heavy artillery to Ukraine, following a pledge by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
U.S. President Joe Biden authorized another $800 million in U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on Thursday, declaring it was necessary to help Kyiv’s forces repel Russian fighters in the critical battles unfolding in the eastern region of the country.
In diplomatic activity Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Washington. The State Department said Blinken “reinforced our determination to help Ukraine successfully defend itself against Russia’s brutal and unjustified war of aggression.”
The U.N. announced Friday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would meet Putin in Moscow on Tuesday. He’ll also hold meetings and have a working lunch with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The U.N. chief wrote to Putin on Tuesday requesting a meeting to discuss the next steps toward peace in Ukraine. He also wrote to Zelenskyy. Guterres’ representative said his office was in contact with the government in Kyiv about scheduling a visit there as well.
Guterres also appealed this week for a four-day humanitarian pause to coincide with Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated in Ukraine and Russia. So far, those efforts have failed.
At a Friday press conference in Moscow, Lavrov said talks to end the fighting in Ukraine were at a standstill because Kyiv had not responded to Moscow’s latest proposals.
“Another proposal we passed on to Ukrainian negotiators about five days ago, which was drawn up with their comments taken into account, it remains without a response,” Russia’s top diplomat said.
However, Russia’s lead negotiator at the talks with Ukraine, Putin aide Vladimir Medinsky, confirmed that he’d engaged in several lengthy conversations with the head of the Ukrainian delegation on Friday, The Associated Press reported.
Alleged war crimes
In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office said Friday that there was growing evidence that Russia had committed war crimes in Ukraine.
“Russian armed forces have indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians and wrecking hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure, actions that may amount to war crimes,” said Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
The U.N. said it appeared that Ukraine had also used weapons with indiscriminate effects.
On Thursday, Putin declared the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol “liberated,” after nearly two months of fighting, even though Russian forces have not been able to penetrate the city’s massive Azovstal steel plant that remains in the hands of Ukrainian fighters and civilians.
Zelenskyy said Russian forces controlled most of Mariupol but that Ukrainian troops did remain in part of the besieged city.
VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.