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Russia’s Lavrov Says Moscow Wants More Territory; US Sees a Grinding War

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In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on July 20, 2022, Russian soldiers fire a mortar from their position at an undisclosed location in Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow wants to capture territory in southern Ukraine beyond the eastern Donbas region as the U.S. and its allies committed more military aid to Ukraine.

Russia failed in the early stages of its five-month offensive to topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv, in northern Ukraine. And it is currently battling Ukrainian forces for control of the Donbas region.

But Lavrov said in an interview Wednesday with state media that Russia no longer feels constrained to fighting in the Donbas where Russian separatists have been battling Kyiv’s forces since 2014 when Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

“Now, the geography has changed. It's not just Donetsk and Luhansk. It's Kherson, Zaporizhia and several other territories. This process is continuing, consistently and persistently,” Lavrov told the state news RT television and RIA Novosti news agency.

Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat, said Moscow’s territorial objectives would expand still further if Western countries delivered more long-range missiles to Kyiv.

The U.S. announced Wednesday plans to send four more such rocket systems to Ukraine, along with more artillery rounds.

“Ukrainian forces are now using long-range rocket systems to great effect, including HIMARS provided by the United States, and other systems from our allies and partners,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday at the Pentagon. “Ukraine's defenders are pushing hard to hold Russia’s advances in the Donbas.”

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Ukrainians have been using U.S.-supplied multiple rocket launchers to hit Russian command centers and supply lines, including a strategically important bridge across the Dnieper River in the Kherson region.

Russian officials said the bridge has sustained damage but is still open to some traffic. The Russian military would be hard-pressed to keep supplying its forces in the region if the bridge were destroyed.

“The Ukrainians are making the Russians pay for every inch of territory that they gain,” Milley said, and the Donbas is “not lost yet. The Ukrainians intend to continue the fight.”

Top US Defense Officials See ‘Grinding War of Attrition’ in Ukraine
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The future, Milley said, will depend on the number of long-range rockets and ammunition the Ukrainians have.

"We have a very serious grinding war of attrition going on in the Donbas. And unless there's a breakthrough on either side — which right now the analysts don't think is particularly likely in the near term — it will probably continue as a grinding war of attrition for a period of time until both sides see an alternative way out of this, perhaps through negotiation or something like that."

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that U.S. intelligence indicated Russia is “laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Kirby said the areas involved in plans that Russia is reviewing include Kherson, Zaporizhia, and all of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

He also urged the U.S. Congress to ratify the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, saying the Biden administration wants to see the two countries “brought into the alliance as soon as possible.”

Both Sweden and Finland broke with longstanding non-alliance positions to seek NATO membership as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave its approval Tuesday, setting the stage for a vote in the full Senate.

All of NATO’s 30 member states must approve Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance.

Grain shipments

On the diplomatic front, Putin said Tuesday that Russia was ready to facilitate Ukrainian grain shipments from ports along the Black Sea, but that he wants Western countries to lift their sanctions against Russian grain exports.

Putin spoke in Iran after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about a proposed plan to resume the Ukrainian exports.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted Ukrainian trade, and with pressures on the global food supply, the United Nations has been involved in the talks to unblock the shipments.

Inflation, Threat of Food Shortages, Push Putin to the Table
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Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told reporters Tuesday that Guterres remained optimistic that a deal can be completed. He added that Guterres had discussed the ongoing negotiations in a phone call Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Putin also met Tuesday with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, signaling closer links between the two countries.

“The contact with Khamenei is very important,” Yuri Ushakov, Putin's foreign policy adviser, told reporters in Moscow. “A trusting dialogue has developed between them on the most important issues on the bilateral and international agenda.”

“On most issues, our positions are close or identical,” Ushakov said.

As Moscow faces ongoing Western economic sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, Russia is trying to strengthen strategic ties with Iran, China and India.

Iran, also facing Western economic sanctions and ongoing disputes with the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program, expressed hope for closer ties with Russia.

“Both our countries have good experience in countering terrorism, and this has provided much security to our region,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said after meeting with Putin. “I hope your visit to Iran will increase cooperation between our two independent countries.”

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that intelligence indicated Russia is “laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Kirby said the areas involved in plans that Russia is reviewing include Kherson, Zaporizhia, and all of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

He also urged the U.S. Congress to ratify the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, saying the Biden administration wants to see the two countries “brought into the alliance as soon as possible.”

Both Sweden and Finland broke with longstanding non-alliance positions to seek NATO membership as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations gave its approval Tuesday, setting the stage for a vote in the full Senate.

All of NATO’s 30 member states must approve Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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