Ukraine has accused Moscow of “imperialism” after a Russian military commander revealed the invaders’ ambition to take full control of southern Ukraine and Donbas in the next phase of the war.
The statement from a deputy commander of Russia’s central military district is one of the most detailed yet about Moscow’s goal which it originally claimed was to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine.
The commander Rustam Minnekayev said Russia wanted “full control” of southern Ukraine and to forge a land corridor between Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and Donbas in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said the comments proved the Kremlin had been lying when it claimed it did not have “territorial ambitions” and exposed Russia’s true “imperialism” intent.
“They stopped hiding it. Today…(they) 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,” the ministry Tweeted.
Minnekayev was cited saying full control of the south would improve access to Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway region of Transdniestria, which borders Ukraine.
He did not mention two major Ukrainian cities — Odesa and Mykolayiv — which remain under Ukrainian control.
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry responded: “They are not going to stop”.
“The command of the Russian central military district announced the next victim of the Russian aggression. After gaining control over the southern Ukraine, Russia plans to invade Moldova, where they say Russian speakers are being “oppressed.”
Meanwhile any capture of the besieged city of Mariupol, which sits between Crimea and areas held by Russian separatists, would allow Russia to link the two regions.
The last Ukrainian fighters still in Mariupol are holed up at a vast industrial facility which President Vladimir Putin has ordered to be blockaded rather than stormed.
Scale of ‘war crimes’ exposed
The UN’s human rights office says there is growing evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, including the bombing of populated areas and wrecking hospitals and schools.
It has also documented what appeared to be Ukraine using indiscriminate weapons that have caused civilian casualties in the east.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Russia’s actions “may amount to war crimes”.
Russia denies targeting civilians or committing any war crimes.
The human rights office said that from the start of the war on February 24 until April 20, monitors in Ukraine had verified 5264 civilian casualties — 2345 killed and 2919 injured.
“We know the actual numbers are going to be much higher as the horrors inflicted in areas of intense fighting, such as Mariupol, come to light,” Ms Bachelet said.
“The scale of summary executions of civilians in areas previously occupied by Russian forces are also emerging.
“The preservation of evidence and decent treatment of mortal remains must be ensured, as well as psychological and other relief for victims and their relatives.”
During a mission to Bucha on April 9, UN human rights officers documented the unlawful killing, including by summary execution, of around 50 civilians, it said.
They have received more than 300 allegations of killings of civilians in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy, all under the control of Russian armed forces in late February and early March.
Monitors were looking into allegations of sexual violence by members of the Russian armed forces, and reports that both sides were improperly detaining civilians, the organisation said.
However, asked about allegations of genocide — including by US President Joe Biden — spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said OHCHR had not found information to back this up.
“A lot of these legal qualifications — crimes against humanity and genocide — at the end of the day would be for a court of law to determine,” she told an online briefing in Geneva.
“But no, we have not documented patterns that could amount to that.”
The next phase of Russia’s invasion of its neighbour will focus on taking full control of Donbas and southern Ukraine, a senior military commander has confirmed
Peace talks stall
Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have held discussions, the head of Moscow’s delegation says, but Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says diplomatic efforts to end the war remain stalled.
Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky confirmed a TASS news report that “several long conversations” had been held but he gave no details.
Earlier this week the Kremlin said Russia had submitted a new written proposal but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had neither seen nor heard about it.
It remains unclear whether the two sides can revive their faltering peace efforts, more than eight weeks after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told European Council President Charles Michel in a phone call earlier on Friday that Ukraine was showing it was not ready to seek mutually acceptable solutions and he accused officials in Kyiv of being “inconsistent” in the negotiations.
After making some apparent progress in March, the atmosphere around the peace talks soured over Ukrainian accusations that Russian troops carried out atrocities in a town near Kyiv as they withdrew from the area.
Russia has denied the accusations, saying they were designed to derail peace efforts and serve as a pretext for more foreign sanctions against it.