Russia vows to push Ukrainian army back in response to longer-range rockets
MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Russian forces would respond to the delivery of longer-range Western weapons to Kyiv by trying to push Ukrainian forces further away from its borders to create a safe buffer zone.
Lavrov told state TV that everybody wanted the conflict in Ukraine - which Moscow calls a "special military operation" - to end, but that the West's support for Kyiv was playing an important role in how Russia approached the campaign.
Two U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington was preparing a new package of military aid worth $2.2 billion which is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time.
"We see how the whole of NATO is waging war against us," Lavrov said.
"We're now seeking to push back Ukrainian army artillery to a distance that will not pose a threat to our territories," he added. "The greater the range of the weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime, the more we will have to push them back from territories which are part of our country."
In this context, he said it was an "objective reality" that Russia had expanded its territory by incorporating four regions of Ukraine last year. Most countries of the United Nations have condemned those declared annexations as illegal.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that longer-range rockets would escalate the conflict but not change its course.
Such weapons would put all of Russia's supply lines in eastern Ukraine, as well as parts of annexed Crimea, within range of Ukrainian forces, military analysts say.
Ukraine has said it plans to retake all of its territory by force, including Crimea.
NO HELP NEEDED
In a long TV interview, Lavrov said Russia did not need help in Ukraine from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, an alliance of ex-Soviet states, and had not asked it to provide material support.
He accused the West of trying to turn former Soviet states including Moldova and Georgia into Russia's enemies, and of undermining its relations with Central Asia.
Without providing evidence, Lavrov accused the United States of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea last year, an act of sabotage that Moscow had previously blamed on Britain. Swedish and Danish investigators have yet to establish who was responsible.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year. He has said the operation was needed to protect Russia's own security and to stand up to what he has described as Western efforts to contain and weaken Moscow.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of waging an illegal war designed to expand its territory.
(Reporting by Reuters, writing by Andrew Osborn and Mark TrevelyanEditing by Gareth Jones)