LONDON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again warned on Friday that Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine was only the “beginning” and that Russia has ambitious plans to “capture” other countries.
Speaking in his nightly address on the day the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates as Good Friday, the Ukrainian leader said: “All the nations that, like us, believe in the victory of life over death must fight with us. They must help us, because we are the first in line. And who will come next?
“If anyone who can become next wants to stay neutral today so as not to lose anything, this is the riskiest bet. Because you will lose everything,” he added.
Zelensky also argued in his speech that the Kremlin is planning to establish control of southern Ukraine and create a corridor to Moldova. This would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin access to the Kremlin-backed separatist region of Trans-Dniester, which borders Ukraine’s western side. Zelensky claimed that in Moldova, “The rights of Russian-speakers are violated” - comparing Russia's alleged agenda in eastern Ukraine to "demilitarise and de-Nazify" it.
Zelensky’s remarks followed comments made by Russian military commander Rustam Minnekayev, who, according to Russian state media, said the Russian Armed Forces planned to “make passage” into the region to reach Moldova.
“Since the beginning of the second phase of the special operation, which began literally two days ago, one of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over Donbas and southern Ukraine. This will provide a land corridor to Crimea,” the acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District said at an annual meeting of the Union of Defense Plants of the Sverdlovsk Region on Friday.
Minnekayev went on to say that control over the Donbas region would create a land corridor for Russia to the annexed Crimean Peninsula, which has been occupied by Kremlin forces since 2014.
It is not clear if the Kremlin officially signed off on Minnekayev’s comments, since Russian defense officials told the BBC that they were “looking into” the remarks. If verified, this would give insight into Putin’s plans in the coming weeks or months.
Moldova’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it “took note of the statements of the representative of Russia’s Ministry of Defense” and “expressed deep concern over the statements made by the Russian official.”
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry also issued a statement, saying Russia was no longer attempting to hide its intention but rather had “acknowledged that the goal of the ‘second phase’ of the war is not victory over the mythical Nazis, but simply the occupation of eastern and southern Ukraine. Imperialism as it is.”
Ukraine warned earlier in April that Russia was mobilizing troops near Trans-Dniester, although Moldova denied it at the time.