Zelenskyy warns Russia is eyeing other countries after Ukraine, Moldova reacts

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivering an online address. [Twitter]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia’s invasion of his country was just the beginning and that Moscow has designs on capturing other countries, after a Russian general said it wants full control over southern Ukraine.

“All the nations that, like us, believe in the victory of life over death must fight with us. They must help us, because we are the first in line. And who will come next?” Zelenskyy said in a video address late on Friday (22 April).

Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, was quoted by Russian state news agencies as saying full control over southern Ukraine would give it access to Transnistria, a breakaway Russian-occupied part of Moldova in the west.

That would cut off Ukraine’s entire coastline and mean Russian forces pushing hundreds of miles west beyond current lines, past the major Ukrainian coastal cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa.

Russian general says Moscow aim is to leave Ukraine as a landlocked country

A Russian general declared on that Moscow wants to seize all of southern and eastern Ukraine, as it presses on with a new offensive after its campaign to capture the capital Kyiv collapsed last month.

The statement was one of the most detailed about Moscow’s ambitions in Ukraine and suggests Russia does not plan to wind down its offensive there anytime soon.

“Control over the south of Ukraine is another way to Transdniestria, where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed,” TASS quoted Minnekayev as saying at a meeting in Russia’s central Sverdlovsk region.

On Twitter, Ukraine’s defence ministry said Minnekayev’s comments showed Russia was no longer hiding its intentions.

Moscow, it said, had now “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.”

Moldova’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Moscow’s ambassador on Friday to express “deep concern” about the general’s comments, who suggested the country’s Russian-speaking population was being oppressed.

“These statements are unfounded,” the foreign ministry said on its website. “Moldova … is a neutral state and this principle must be respected by all international actors, including the Russian Federation.”

Moldova last month applied to join the European Union, charting a pro-Western course hastened by Russia’s invasion. On Friday Moldova handed to the EU representative in Chisinau the answers to the questionnaire, an important step toward obtaining candidate status.

Ukraine took the same step on 18 April. Georgia is expected to follow suit.

Ukraine completes questionnaire for EU membership

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy formally submitted a completed questionnaire on EU membership to the bloc’s envoy in Kyiv on Monday (18 April) and said he believed this step would lead to his country gaining candidate status ‘within weeks’.

US State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter said Washington firmly supported Moldova’s sovereignty.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment when asked if Russia had expanded the goals of its operation and how Moscow saw the political future of southern Ukraine.

As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Washington, Zelenskyy said allies were finally delivering the weapons Kyiv had asked for.

President Joe Biden said on Thursday he had authorized a further $800 million in military aid for Ukraine, including heavy artillery, ammunition and drones. Canada said on Friday it had provided more heavy artillery to Ukraine.

A senior EU official said the next couple of weeks would likely be decisive.

“We are likely to see a very significant increase in the intensity of Russian military attacks in the east (and on) the coast,” he told reporters.

Ukraine’s military said Russian forces had increased attacks along the frontline in the east and were attempting an offensive in the Kharkiv region, north of their main target, the Donbas.

Both Russia and Ukraine are predominantly Orthodox Christians, and mark Easter Sunday on 24 April. Russia has rejected a proposal for a truce over the Orthodox Christian Easter period.

Zelenskyy says Russia has rejected proposal for Orthodox Easter truce

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday (21 April) said Russia had rejected a proposal for a truce over the Orthodox Christian Easter period this weekend but added he still harbored hopes for peace.

Ukrainian military commands in the south and east said they had repelled 11 Russian attacks, killing up to 130 soldiers while destroying 12 tanks and 27 other armoured vehicles, details Reuters could not independently confirm.

Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had captured a large arms depot in the Kharkiv region. It also reported hitting dozens of targets in the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions on Friday.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechnya region who has often described himself as Putin’s “foot soldier”, wrote on his official Telegram account late on Friday that Chechnya was deploying hundreds of additional volunteers to fight for Russia in Ukraine.

In Geneva, the United Nations human rights office said there was growing evidence of Russian war crimes, including indiscriminate shelling and summary executions. It said Ukraine also appeared to have used weapons with indiscriminate effects.

Russia denies targeting civilians and says, without evidence, that signs of atrocities committed by its soldiers were faked. Ukraine has previously said it will punish any soldiers found to have committed war crimes.

Russia said it had “securely blockaded” thousands of Ukrainian troops holed up in a huge steel works in Mariupol, the main port of the Donbas, a day after President Vladimir Putin said the army would not bother rooting them out.

Putin declared victory in the city after a nearly two-month siege. In a Russian-held section of Mariupol, dazed-looking residents ventured out this week to a background of charred apartment blocks and wrecked cars.

Volunteers in white hazmat suits and masks roved the ruins, collecting bodies from apartments and loading them on to a truck marked with the letter “Z”, symbol of Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine estimates tens of thousands of civilians have died in Russia’s siege of the city and says 100,000 civilians are still there and need full evacuation.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk on Friday said “there is a possibility” a humanitarian corridor out of Mariupol could be opened up on Saturday.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres will visit Moscow on Tuesday to meet Putin and discuss urgently bringing peace to Ukraine, a spokesperson said, adding that Guterres will then head to Kyiv for talks with Zelenskyy.

The US military expects more than 20 countries to attend Ukraine-focused defense talks it will host in Germany next week that will focus in part on Kyiv’s long-term defense needs, the Pentagon said on Friday.

US to host Ukraine-focused defence talks at Germany's Ramstein air base

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will host Ukraine-focused defence talks with allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany next week, the Pentagon said on Thursday (21 April).

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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