Russia has expanded its military goals in Ukraine from seizing control of the eastern Donbas region to regime change, the Kremlin’s top diplomat says.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking to envoys at an Arab League summit in Cairo late Sunday, said Moscow is targeting the “absolutely unacceptable regime” of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“We feel sorry for the Ukrainian people, who deserve far better,” Lavrov said. “We feel sorry for Ukrainian history, which is collapsing before our eyes.”
Zelenskyy was unbowed, pleading to win “this war for independence” and to keep Ukraine on a course toward full membership in the EU and becoming one of the most modern states in the world.
Russian troops swept into Ukraine on Feb. 24 and rolled toward Kyiv before bogging down on the outskirts of the capital. The Kremlin then hit reset, focusing its efforts on the industrial Donbas.
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►After a Monday visit to the Republic of Congo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to travel to Uganda and Ethiopia in what appears to be an effort to bolster African support, especially for any upcoming U.N. votes.
►Ukraine will hand over “Eurovision” hosting duties to Britain next year, despite winning this year’s blockbuster TV event, because of dangers caused by the war, the European Broadcasting Union said.
►Wheat prices rose sharply Monday after Russian missiles struck the Ukrainian shipping port of Odesa over the weekend.
►The Ukraine military denied the Kremlin’s claim that it has destroyed four American High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers delivered this month.
►Russia’s Federal Security Service, the KGB’s successor agency, said Monday that it has thwarted an attempt by the Ukrainian military intelligence to entice Russian military pilots to surrender their combat jets to Ukraine by offering them money and EU citizenship.
RUSSIA DEFENDS ATTACK ON ODESA: Russia says it hit only military targets; envoy says Ukraine kids kidnapped: Live updates
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Russian energy giant Gazprom announced another cut in the flow of gas through its Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Europe, dropping the flow to about 20% of normal capacity. The company blamed the need to overhaul another pipeline turbine.
Earlier Monday, Gazprom said documents received from German equipment maker Siemens have failed to resolve concerns surrounding another turbine that Gazprom blamed for a 60% decline in gas flow to Europe. That turbine was sent to Canada for maintenance, then shipped to Germany. Gazprom has asked Siemens to provide “prompt support in obtaining the required documents” so the turbine can be delivered to Russia.
Germany is accusing the Russian firm of politically motivated stall tactics, saying, “there is no technical reason for a reduction in deliveries.”
The first shipments of grain under a deal mediated by the United Nations and Turkey could leave Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port this week, Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Monday. Kubrakov told Radio Free Europe there was no limit in the deal on the amount of grain that could be shipped.
The deal signed Friday could clear the way for the shipment of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain desperately needed across much of the developing world, as well as Russian grain and fertilizer. A Russian strike on the southern port town of Odesa over the weekend had raised questions about whether the agreement would hold.
“We expect the agreement to start working in the coming days,” said Kubrakov, who led Ukraine’s delegation at talks in Istanbul last week.
Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuriy Vasyukov said that after Chornomorsk, shipments would follow from Odesa and Pivdeny. The timeframe for all three ports to be functioning is within two weeks, he said.
Not content with their gains so far in the industrial Donbas region, the Russians continue pounding the Donetsk province that makes up half the area while also taking aim at the Kharkiv province to the north.
Russian artillery hit the Donetsk cities of Avdiivka, Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, while an airstrike damaged at least five houses in Bakhmut.
“The Russians are using the scorched-earth tactics across the entire Donbas,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on television. “They fire from the ground and from the air to wipe off entire cities.”
The invading forces also struck cities in Kharkiv. One of them was Chuhuiv, where workers searched for survivors under rubble after 12 rockets landed before dawn, damaging a cultural center, school and other infrastructure, authorities said.
“All these years our society, residents have been creating and building comfortable life conditions,” Mayor Galina Minayeva said. “And now the enemy is destroying all this, killing children, peaceful residents. It’s very hard to describe all this.”
Russian forces in Melitopol are threatening to blow up the infrastructure if Ukrainian forces liberate the southeastern city, Mayor Ivan Fedorov told Interfax-Ukraine. Russian troops are positioning their military equipment and military facilities in the immediate vicinity of residential high-rise apartment buildings so the Ukrainian military can’t respond to shelling, the mayor said.
Fedorov said about 50,000 to 60,000 people remain in the city of 150,000 – and said less than 5% of them are Russian “collaborators.” Most remain because they have no relatives in other regions or abroad to flee to for help, he said.
“There are those who have sick parents, relatives who need to be helped and who cannot be left alone,” he said.
The Kremlin has developed plans for rebuilding the missile-devastated city of Mariupol in three stages ending in 2040, according to Russian Federation documents obtained by Radio Free Europe’s “Donbas Realities” project. The media outlet said it obtained the documents from Ukrainian intelligence.
The first stage runs through the end of 2022 and involves restoration of vital infrastructure and setting up a cemetery. Housing and “transport infrastructure” is planned until 2025. By 2040, the Russian government wants to ensure “budgetary efficiency and economic self-sufficiency of the city’s territories.”
Options suggested for the Azovstal steel plant, site of the Ukrainian military’s last stand in the city, include resumption of steel manufacture, other business industrial uses or two versions of a park. The city of 450,000 people had less than 100,000 remaining by the time it was overrun in May.
A seven-member election committee is being created in the southern Kherson Region that borders Crimea to conduct a referendum on acceding to Russia. The decree by the head of the Kherson Region’s military-civilian administration said nominations were being accepted for the election committee that will have seven members serving three-year terms.
On Saturday, the head of the southeastern Zaporizhzhia Region’s military-civilian administration, Yevgeny Balitsky, signed a decree on the creation of an election committee to conduct a referendum on joining Russia.
Contributing: The Associated Press