(CNSNews.com) – Russia’s leaders “have become some of the best debunkers of their own lies,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday, commenting on recent remarks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Ukraine. “They are now telling the world what has been clear for some time – that this is nothing more than a war of territorial conquest.”
At the weekend, Lavrov told a gathering of Arab League ambassadors in Cairo that Russia was “determined to help the people of the east of Ukraine to liberate themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime” – a reference to Russian-speaking separatists in the Donbass and to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government in Kyiv.
But then Lavrov went further, saying that Moscow also wants to help the Ukrainian people topple the government in Kyiv – a comment that stands in contrast to the Kremlin’s stated objectives for its “special military operation” launched in February.
After accusing the Ukrainian government of promoting Nazi ideology and working to create biological weapons, Lavrov said, “We will certainly help Ukrainian people to get rid of the regime, which is absolutely anti-people and anti-historical.”
Several days earlier, Lavrov suggested that Russia’s goals in Ukraine now went beyond “liberating” the Donbass, following the West’s decision to provide Kyiv with more sophisticated weaponry including HIMARS mobile rocket launcher systems.
“The geography is different now,” he told the pro-Kremlin RT network, saying Russia was no longer talking about the two self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” in Donbass (the DPR and LPR), but about the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions “and a number of other territories.”
“It means that we will have to put the line away even further [to the west],” he said, since Russia cannot allow the part of Ukraine controlled by Zelenskyy to possess weapons that pose a direct threat to Russian territory or to the “independent” republics.
At the daily State Department briefing, Price pointed to both of Lavrov’s comments.
“Virtually every single day senior Russian officials are putting to the lie just about everything we heard from Moscow before the start of the invasion on February 24,” he said.
Price said the Kremlin had originally linked its invasion to “some perceived threat from some imagined enemy” – Ukraine, NATO, the U.S., the West.
Now, however, Lavrov was saying that “Moscow’s overarching goal in Ukraine was to free the Ukrainian people from its quote/unquote ‘unacceptable’ regime.”
“Last week, once again, Foreign Minister Lavrov, he did precisely the same thing,” Price said. “He said publicly what we have always known, saying that Russia’s quote/unquote ‘geographical goals’ in Ukraine go well beyond the Donbass. They include Kherson, they include Zaporizhzhia, they include other sovereign regions of Ukraine.”
Price went back further, to when President Vladimir Putin last month compared himself to Peter the Great and said that, like the 18th century czar did when he waged war against Sweden, Russia was going nothing more now than taking back its own territory.
“In a strange way, I think again it’s fair to say that the Russians have become some of the best debunkers of their own lies, of their own propaganda,” Price said.
“They are now telling the world what has been clear for some time – that this is nothing more than a war of territorial conquest.”
When he announced the invasion on February 24, Putin said its purpose was “to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the [Kyiv] regime” – a reference to Russian-speakers in the DPR and LPR.
The TASS state news agency, at the end of most of its news items on the war, has carried a boilerplate sentence stating in part, “The Russian leader stressed that Moscow had no plans of occupying Ukrainian territories.”
U.S. officials warn, however, of plans for “sham” referendums in areas beyond the Donbass, in preparation for Russia to annex more Ukrainian territory, as it annexed Crimea in 2014.
In Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, Russian proxies are discussing holding referendums as early as the first half of September.
Should Russia and/or its proxies end up controlling Crimea, the Donbass, as well as territory west of the Donbass such as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine would have lost roughly a quarter of its total territory, including more than half of its coastline.
Reacting to Lavrov’s comments to RT pointing to expanded territorial aims, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a strong international response.
“By confessing dreams to grab more Ukrainian land, Russian Foreign Minister proves that Russia rejects diplomacy and focuses on war and terror,” he tweeted. “Russians want blood, not talks. I call on all partners to step up sanctions pressure on Russia and speed up arms deliveries to Ukraine.”
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