Russia has for the first time stated as among its ultimate war aims achieving regime change in Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in Sunday remarks which were publicized Monday that Moscow will help the Ukrainian people "get rid of the regime" in Kiev.
Going into early summer, the Russian military had focused its battlefield goals on "liberating" the Donbas, but this latest Lavrov comment on removing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky represents the most expansive war aim yet.
"We are determined to help the people of eastern Ukraine to liberate themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime," Lavrov said while meeting with Arab League officials in Egypt.
He added for emphasis, "We will certainly help the Ukrainian people to get rid of the regime, which is absolutely anti-people and anti-historical," according to The Associated Press.
Though as yet unclear if Lavrov's provocative statements represent a change in official Kremlin policy, they do represent an about-face for the Russian top diplomat, given he early on in the invasion said that Russia was not looking to depose Zelensky.
The AP's reporting notes that "His remarks contrasted with the Kremlin’s line early in the war, when it repeatedly emphasized that Russia wasn’t seeking to overthrow Zelenskyy’s government, even as Moscow’s troops closed in on Kyiv. Russia later retreated from around the capital and turned its attention to capturing the Donbas."
Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Russia’s goals were more ambitious than Moscow had declared at the start of the war in February, when it claimed its goal was to "liberate" the eastern Donbas border region. Moscow’s war aims now extend to the provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine, which are mostly occupied by Russian forces, Lavrov said.
Some political analysts in the West - the University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer foremost among them - have stated their belief that Moscow initially sought to limit operations to the East, in defense of the pro-Russian breakaway republics; however, Mearsheimer has argued that many variables have likely caused Putin to expand beyond these initial goals. Chief among the battlefield variables remains Washington and the West's continually escalating involvement, especially in weapons shipments - including longer range missile systems. Both sides keep escalating, with no signs that negotiations will happen anytime soon until something more decisive on the battlefield.
Today, Russia doubled down on its goal of toppling Zelensky.— Clint Ehrlich (@ClintEhrlich) July 26, 2022
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "We will certainly help the Ukrainian people to get rid of the regime."
This wasn't loose language. It was a clue to Russia's current grand strategy. 🧵 1/N pic.twitter.com/nNGoGRDHpE
Lavrov alluded to this in his comments from last week, saying, "If the west continues to pump Ukraine full of weaponry out of impotent rage or a desire to exacerbate the situation [ . . .] then that means our geographical tasks will move even further from the current line."