Russia’s military focus in Ukraine is no longer “only” the east of the country, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.
In an interview with Russian state media, he implied Moscow’s strategy had changed after the West supplied Ukraine with longer-range weapons.
Russia would now have to push Ukrainian forces further from the front line to ensure its own security, he explained.
The US had earlier accused Russia of preparing to annex parts of Ukraine.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February, claiming falsely that Russian-speakers in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region had suffered a genocide and needed to be liberated.
Five months on, Russia has occupied parts of the east and south of the country, but it failed in its original aim of capturing Kyiv and has since claimed its main objective was the liberation of Donbas.
Since February, the West has supplied Ukraine with increasingly powerful weapons to use in its defence against Russian forces.
Mr Lavrov says that has forced Russia to expand its objectives further.
“We cannot allow the part of Ukraine controlled by [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky… to possess weapons that would pose a direct threat to our territory,” Mr Lavrov said in the interview with Margarita Simonyan – a well-known commentator on Russian TV and editor-in-chief of broadcaster RT.
“The geography is different now,” he said, naming the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions as Russia’s latest objectives. Moscow’s forces already occupy parts of both regions.
Mr Lavrov specifically referred to the Himars longer-range rocket system – supplied only recently by the US – with which Ukraine has had some success.
For two days running Ukrainian forces have used Himars to hit a key, strategic bridge in occupied Kherson, reports say. The Antonivskyi bridge is one of two bridges that Russia relies on to supply areas it has captured on the west bank of the Dnipro river, including Kherson city.
The Russian foreign minister described the West’s actions in giving weapons to Ukraine as an “impotent anger” and a “desire to make things worse”.