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As Russian troops tighten their grip on the strategic port town of Mariupol, their strategy is finally becoming clear. Russian military commander Rustam Minnekaev now says the second phase of President Vladimir Putin’s “special operation” is focused on establishing a “land corridor” from the Donbas all the way to Moldova, which would cut off the rest of Ukraine from the sea.
“One of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine. This will provide a land corridor to the Crimea, as well as influence the vital objects of the Ukrainian economy,” Minnekaev said Friday at a meeting with the Union of Defense Industries, as reported by the Russian state-owned Interfax. “Control over the south of Ukraine is another way out to Transnistria, where there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population.” Transnistria is a separatist region of Moldova that has so far not been officially involved in the war despite hosting a Russian military base since the 1990s.
The general’s words suggest that Moldova’s sovereign borders would also come under threat from further Russian expansion. Phony efforts to protect Russian-speaking peoples have often foreshadowed Putin’s imperial invasions.
In reality, Russian speakers have been struck down in the hundreds in eastern Ukraine during the brutal invasion.
If successful, the strategy would include taking the port of the former seaside resort town of Odesa near the Moldovan border, which has suffered sporadic bombardments but no full-fledged invasion so far. Russia’s warship Moskva was hit about 75 miles off the coast of Odesa two weeks ago, before it sank en route to Crimea.
The refocusing of troops from northern Ukraine to the southern regions of the country has further choked Mariupol, where Ukrainian troops and civilians are holed up in a steel factory surrounded by Russian troops. Satellite imagery identified a growing number of graves outside the port city, where Ukrainian officials say up to 200 new graves have been dug since April 3.
While the Russian military has largely now left northern Ukraine alone save for sporadic missile strikes, fresh evidence of Russia’s ruthless tactics there in recent weeks continue to build a case for widespread war crimes. Andrii Nebytov, the head of police for Kyiv region, told CNN that they are examining 1,084 bodies found in the region outside Kyiv, including Bucha, for signs of torture. “These are civilians who had nothing to do with territorial defense or other military formations,” he said. “The vast majority—between 50 percent and 75 percent—are people killed by small arms, either a machine gun or a sniper rifle, depending on the location.”
Among the atrocities are evidence of widespread rape and sexual mutilation. The youngest victim who survived to tell her story is just 15, according to CNN. Several female bodies in mass graves show evidence of horrific crimes as well.
On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Office described Russian atrocities against Ukrainians as a “horror story of violations against civilians” that shows no sign of abating.