By Geoffrey Smith
Investing.com — Russia has added the conquest of southern Ukraine to its main campaign goals, signaling a more ambitious military campaign in the coming weeks.
The Interfax news agency reported that the Defense Ministry in Moscow had said the “second stage” of its “special military operation” now includes “full control” of the country’s south. Only a week ago, President Vladimir Putin said his forces’ main goal was to secure control of the Donbass region, expanding the small breakaway states that Russia’s proxies have ruled since 2014. When he invaded in February, Putin said he had no intention of occupying other parts of Ukraine.
Tass news agency, meanwhile, reported that the high command intended to secure a corridor running through all of southern Ukraine to Transnistria – another Russian-sponsored breakaway region in the EU. east of Moldova. This would imply the loss of Ukraine’s entire coastline and therefore its access to world markets for its main agricultural exports. The report appears to confirm Russian plans to dismember its neighbor, which has been an independent country and a member of the UN since 1991.
As part of the so-called second phase of the operation, Russian forces launched a major offensive in eastern Ukraine, having failed to capture the capital kyiv in the first phase.
Interfax also reported that Major General Rustam Minnekayev reportedly said the army would seek to establish a land corridor to Crimea, the Ukrainian region it annexed at the same time as the Donbas regions seceded. The importance of a land corridor has grown, given Moscow’s inability to secure control of the Black Sea coastline. It has lost both its flagship, the cruiser Moskva, and the Saratov, a large supply ship, to Ukrainian missiles in the past month.
The announcement comes a day after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that his forces had full control of the city of Mariupol, despite continued resistance from Ukrainian soldiers at the steel plant in Mariupol. ‘Azovstal, a vast industrial complex about 3 miles long.
Separately, an overnight report by typically pro-Kremlin Russian outlet Readovka quoted a closed Defense Ministry briefing as saying Russia’s military casualties had been far higher than previously admitted. He estimated that more than 13,400 soldiers were killed and another 7,000 missing. If the usual ratio of killed to wounded applies to the current campaign, it would suggest that Russia has suffered more than 50,000 casualties in eight weeks of fighting, more than a quarter of all the forces it mustered for the attack.
Readovka’s post was quickly eliminated.