Official: Russia extends its military scope to southern Ukraine
Ukrainian forces on Wednesday damaged a bridge critical to supplying Russian troops in southern Ukraine, where Russia’s foreign minister said Moscow was trying to consolidate territorial gains.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told state television RT and RIA Novosti news agency that Russia had extended its “special military operation” from the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk of Ukraine, to include the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and other captured territories.
Lavrov’s remarks and the Ukrainian missile attack on the strategically important bridge in the Kherson region indicated that the nearly five-month war would likely widen again after being fought mainly in eastern Ukraine since April.
The head of Russian diplomacy noted that when Russia and Ukraine discussed in March a possible agreement to end the fighting, “our willingness to accept the Ukrainian proposal was based on the geography of March 2022”.
“Now it’s a different geography,” Lavrov said, repeating Moscow’s earlier claims that the United States and Britain were encouraging Ukraine to expand hostilities.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and quickly seized some territory, but withdrew from the capital region and the north in late March to focus on taking Donetsk and Lugansk, where separatists pro-Moscow have controlled much of the territory since 2014.
As Russian forces took control of several towns in the two eastern provinces, which together form Ukraine’s industrial region of Donbass, Ukrainian officials spoke of plans for a counteroffensive to retake Russian-occupied areas in the south.
The Ukrainian strike on the Dnipro River Bridge appeared to be aimed at loosening Russia’s grip on the southern Kherson region. Wednesday’s attack on the bridge was the second in as many days.
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of a Russian-installed temporary administration that rules the region, said the Ukrainian military struck the Antonivskyi Bridge, using HIMARS multiple rocket launchers supplied by the United States.
The 1.4 kilometer (0.9 mile) bridge is the main crossing point of the river in the Kherson region. Eliminating it would make it difficult for the Russian military to continue supplying its forces there.
Stremousov said that due to the damage to the bridge, pontoons would be built across the river, also known as the Dnieper.
The head of the Moscow-appointed Kherson administration, Vladimir Saldo, said in a video message that passenger vehicles could continue to cross the bridge but truck traffic was halted. He said trucks could cross the river using a dam 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.
At the start of the war, Russian troops quickly overran the Kherson region just north of the Crimean peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014. They faced Ukrainian counterattacks, but largely held their ground.
Kherson – the site of a major shipbuilding industry at the confluence of the Dnipro River and the Black Sea near Russian annexed Crimea – is one of several areas a US government spokesman said the Russia was trying to take over now.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that US intelligence officials had amassed “extensive” new evidence that Russia was formally considering annexing additional territory from Ukraine and could organize a “mock” public vote as early as September.
Russia is eyeing Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, as well as the entire Donbass region.
Lavrov claimed that the United States was preventing Ukraine from entering into talks on a possible settlement with Russia.
“They prevent them from taking constructive action and not only inject weapons, but force them to use these weapons in increasingly risky ways,” the Russian minister said.
Russian-installed authorities said on Wednesday that the Ukrainian army had used drones to attack the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.
Vladimir Rogov, a Moscow-appointed local official, said three Ukrainian attack drones hit the plant’s territory with explosives, but not its reactor area. All normal operations continued and no radiation releases were detected, he said.
Russian state news agency Tass reported that 11 factory workers were injured, four of them seriously.
Ukrainian authorities, who have reported in recent months that Russian missiles nearly hit the plant, did not immediately comment on the report.
The bulk of Russian forces are stuck in the Donbass region, where they have made slow progress in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance. The Russian military used long-range missiles to strike targets in all regions of Ukraine, killing hundreds of civilians.
Ukraine’s presidential office said at least 13 civilians were killed and 40 others injured by Russian shelling across the country in 24 hours between Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Wednesday, at least three more people died when Russia bombarded the northeastern city of Kharkiv with Hurricane salvo rocket systems, authorities said. The victims, who were waiting at a bus stop, included a 69-year-old man, his wife and a 13-year-old boy.
The boy’s 15-year-old sister was injured, according to the Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office. The video showed the boy’s father, apparently in shock, praying over his son’s uncovered body and holding his hand.
Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine during the war of launching attacks across the border into Russian territory. Another such report came on Wednesday, when Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that Ukrainian forces fired on two border villages.
Most villagers had already been evacuated under the state of emergency, but, Gladkov said, the latest attack killed a man and damaged homes and a village club.
In other developments Wednesday:
– An Associated Press investigation has revealed that many Ukrainian refugees are forced to embark on a surreal journey to Russia, subjected to human rights abuses along the way, stripped of their documents and left confused and lost as to where they are.
— US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told a gathering of defense leaders on Wednesday that Ukraine was effectively using US-supplied rocket launchers on the battlefield. Austin said the Pentagon plans to provide the Ukrainian military with four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers, bringing the total to 16. The truck-mounted HIMARS launchers fire GPS-guided missiles that can reach targets up to 80 kilometers (50 miles). .
– Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska appealed to US lawmakers during a speech at the US Capitol for more air defense systems to protect her country’s skies. In her callous speech on Capitol Hill, Zelenska shared images of bloodstained baby carriages and crumpled little bodies left behind after Russian missile attacks.
— European Union headquarters has proposed that member states reduce their gas consumption by 15% over the next few months to ensure that any complete Russian cut in natural gas supply will not cause winter disruptions unmanageable. While the initial cuts would be voluntary, the European Commission has also sought the power to impose mandatory cuts across the bloc in the event of a severe gas shortage or exceptionally high demand.
— In a sign of the crippling economic impact of the war, the Ukrainian government has said it will ask investors to allow the country to defer payment of its foreign debt for two years. Leaders of a group of creditors said they accepted the postponement and urged bondholders to do the same.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine