Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has said Moscow’s ultimate goal in Ukraine is to topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an apparent pivot from the Kremlin’s earlier stance.
Lavrov made the comments in Egypt at the beginning of a tour of Africa, where the top diplomat has sought to raise support while downplaying Russia’s role in blocking grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
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He told envoys at an Arab League summit in Cairo late on Sunday that Moscow was determined to help Ukrainians “liberate themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime.”
He also said Kyiv and “its Western allies” were spreading propaganda intended to ensure that Ukraine “becomes the eternal enemy of Russia.”
“Russian and Ukrainian people would continue to live together, we will certainly help Ukrainian people to get rid of the regime, which is absolutely anti-people and anti-historical,” he said.
Lavrov’s remarks contrasted with the Kremlin’s stated position in the days following the February 24 invasion, when Russian officials said they sought to “denazify” and “demilitarise” Ukraine and downplayed the prospect of overthrowing Zelenskyy’s government.
After withdrawing from the outskirts of Kyiv and refocusing the fight to the eastern Donbas region in March, the Kremlin said it aimed to “liberate” the largely Russian-speaking population of the region, a characterisation Ukraine has dismissed as propaganda.
Lavrov also told envoys that Russia had been ready to negotiate an end to the fighting in March, but that the West encouraged Ukraine to keep fighting.
Meanwhile, Moscow is facing criticism for a strike on an Odesa port over the weekend.
The attack chilled a fledgling agreement meant to alleviate the blocked export of Ukrainian grain, an important lifeline for many African countries facing high costs of living as fuel and food shortages persist.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that the strike had to do “exclusively with the military infrastructure” and would not affect grain shipping, as Ukraine hoped shipments would resume this week.