Russia has revealed that the goal of its invasion of Ukraine is to take "full control" over southern Ukraine as well as the eastern Donbas region.
The announcement by a top military official marks the first time Russia admitted it was fighting to establish a land corridor through Ukrainian territory connecting Russia to Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014.
"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," Maj. Gen. Rustam Minnekaev, the acting commander of Russia's Central Military District, said according to TASS, a Russian state news agency.
Minnekaev, speaking at the annual general meeting of the Union of Defense Industry Enterprises of the Sverdlovsk region, was quoted by TASS as saying the aim was to create a land corridor between Ukraine's eastern Donbas region and Crimea.
He added that control over Ukraine's south would give Russian forces access to Transnistria, a separatist statelet in Moldova, where a contingent of Russian forces has been stationed since the early 1990s.
Russian forces at present have only partial control of southern Ukraine, with the Ukrainian government still in control of the key cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa and some Ukrainian forces holding out in a steel plant in the encircled port of Mariupol.
Russia in recent weeks withdrew its forces in northern Ukraine after a failure to take Kyiv, with Russian military officials claiming that their strategic goals had shifted to taking all of the eastern Donbas region.
Asked by reporters Friday to elaborate on what territories were meant by southern Ukraine, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to comment and referred questions to the Ministry of Defense.
Ukrainian authorities have warned in recent days that Russian forces occupying the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson were planning to stage a sham referendum declaring a so-called "Kherson People's Republic" in the coming days, mirroring the Russian-backed creation of separatist republics in Donbas in 2014 that set the stage for Russia's invasion on February 24.