Moscow’s goal is to oust Ukrainian president, says Russian foreign minister

Russia appears to have reversed itself after the country’s top diplomat said Moscow’s overarching goal was to overthrow the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Russian artillery barrages and airstrikes continue to hit targets. cities across Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remark comes amid efforts by Ukraine to resume grain exports from its Black Sea ports, which would help ease global food shortages, as part of a new agreement tested by a Russian strike in Odessa this weekend.

Addressing envoys at an Arab League summit in Cairo on Sunday evening, Lavrov said Moscow was determined to help Ukrainians “free themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime”.

Lavrov accused Kyiv and “its Western allies” of spreading propaganda designed to make Ukraine “become Russia’s eternal enemy”.

“The Russian and Ukrainian people would continue to live together, we will certainly help the Ukrainian people to get rid of the regime, which is absolutely anti-people and anti-historical,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo on Sunday. Lavrov told emissaries at an Arab League summit that Moscow wanted to help Ukrainians “break free” from the Zelenskyy government. (Amr Abdullah Dalsh/Reuters)

Lavrov’s remarks contrasted sharply with the Kremlin line at the start of the war, when Russian officials repeatedly stressed that they were not seeking to overthrow Zelensky’s government.

Lavrov argued that Russia was ready to broker a deal to end hostilities in March when Ukraine changed course and declared its intention to rout Russia on the battlefield, adding that the West had encouraged Ukraine to continue to fight.

“The West insists that Ukraine should not start negotiations until Russia is defeated on the battlefield,” Lavrov said.

Kremlin insists Odessa strike won’t affect grain

It was not yet clear when grain shipments would resume after Russia and Ukraine signed identical agreements with the United Nations and Turkey on Friday in Istanbul. The agreements aim to pave the way for the shipment of millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain, as well as the export of Russian grain and fertilizer.

The Kremlin insisted on Monday that the attack on the port of Odessa over the weekend targeted military assets and would not affect grain transportation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the strike concerned “exclusively the military infrastructure”.

“It is in no way related to the infrastructure involved in fulfilling agreements and exporting grain, so it cannot and should not affect the start of the shipping process in any way,” Peskov said.

Firefighters work at the site of a Russian missile strike at the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine on Saturday. (Press service of the Joint Forces of the South Defense / Reuters)

The Kremlin spokesman also said that Moscow has no interest in stopping all gas supplies to Europe and that the recent restrictions on the flow of Russian gas to European countries “are simply the consequences of the restrictions that the Europeans have imposed, and the Europeans themselves suffer from it”. limitations.”

“Russia is a responsible gas supplier, and whatever is said, the European Commission, in European capitals, in the United States, Russia has been and continues to be a country that guarantees to a large extent the energy security of Europe,” said Peskov.

Russian shelling continues in east and south

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s presidential office said Monday that at least two civilians had been killed and 10 others injured in the latest Russian bombardment in the past 24 hours.

In the eastern region of Donetsk, the center of the Russian offensive, Russian artillery hit Avdiivka, Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka. An airstrike on Bakhmut damaged at least five houses.

“The Russians are using scorched earth tactics all over Donbass, firing from the ground and from the air to wipe out entire towns,” Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks.

Firefighters work at the site of a residential building damaged by a Russian military strike in the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine in this photo released by the National Emergency Service of Ukraine on Monday. (Press service of the National Emergency Service of Ukraine/Reuters)

The Russians also hit the Kharkiv region. In the town of Chuhuiv, a Russian strike destroyed the building of a local club and rescue workers pulled several people from under the rubble.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Sinyehubov denounced the attack as “senseless barbarism”, saying “it looks like a deadly lottery when no one knows where the next strike will take place and the whole area is dangerous for life. “.

In the Dnipro region, a 10-year-old girl was injured by shelling and a seven-year-old child was injured in the Russian shelling of the Mykolaiv region.

On Sunday, Ukrainian soldiers prepare a cannon for combat in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine. (Evgeny Maloletka/Associated Press)

In other developments, Russia’s top internal security agency said on Monday it thwarted an attempt by Ukrainian military intelligence to trick Russian military pilots into handing over their fighter jets to Ukraine.

The Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB, said on Monday that the Ukrainians had offered Russian pilots money and European Union citizenship to persuade them to hijack their fighter jets . In a video released by the FSB, a man, believed to be a Ukrainian intelligence officer, offers to pay a would-be defector pilot $2 million if he abandons his plane while on a combat mission over the Ukraine.

Russian state television claimed Western spy agencies had aided the Ukrainians in their efforts. The Russian claims could not be independently verified.