A Russian general has said Russia is aiming to take full control of southern Ukraine as well as the eastern Donbas region.
Russian state media quoted Maj Gen Rustam Minnekayev as saying that the goal would allow Moscow to form a land bridge to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
The commander also said the annexation of southern Ukraine would give Moscow access to the Russian-backed separatist region of Transnistria in Moldova.
Transnistria is a small region that borders Ukraine’s west. It claimed independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in a bloody conflict in the 1990s. Russia has stationed 1 500 troops on the territory since 1995.
Gen Minnekayev, who is deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, made the remarks on Friday during a military event in the Sverdlovsk region. He said:
Control over the south of Ukraine is another way out to Transnistria, where there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population.
It is unclear if Gen Minnekayev’s comments were officially sanctioned by the Russian Government.
However, the general’s comments were widely cited in Russian state media including the Interfax and Tass news agencies.