US and Ukrainian officials on Sunday discussed the possibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin expanding his invasion of the Donbas region in southeastern Ukraine into neighboring Moldova – another former Soviet state and non-NATO member in Eastern Europe.
“I think where they go from here remains to be seen,” deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview, referring to Russian troops. “But they are far from cities like Odesa” — a Black Sea port city in southern Ukraine — “and of course from Moldova.”
Russian forces “have a lot of fighting to do,” Fine added, “and we think Ukraine will be very effective in fending off them.”
Pressed about how the Biden administration’s wartime strategy would change if Russia began moving toward Moldova, Finer replied that the United States had “demonstrated the ability to be agile” and “to adapt our aid and approach as Russia’s war objectives have evolved. ”
“We will continue to do so from time to time, depending on how things develop on the battlefield,” said Finer.
The more subtle statement came after Russian news agencies reported last Friday that Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, said Russia plans to take full control of the Donbas and parts of southern Ukraine as part of a new offensive in the country.
“Control over southern Ukraine is another way for Transdniestria, where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed,” Minnekayev reportedly said at a meeting in Russia’s central Sverdlovsk region.
Transniestria, or Transnistria, is a territory of Moldova that broke away from Russia, bordering Ukraine to the southwest. Moldova, like Ukraine, was part of the Soviet Union until Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved the sprawling communist state in 1991.
Minnekayev also reportedly said that Russia was planning to build a land corridor between the Donbas and Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula south of Ukraine that Russia illegally seized and annexed in 2014.
Asked on Sunday about a possible Russian invasion of Moldova, Igor Zhovkva, deputy head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, told NBC that Russian troops “can move wherever they want, but they won’t, we won’t let them do this. ” . ”
“Russia’s war actually started in 2014 with the capture of Crimea and parts of the Donbas. So, yes, now they want to capture all of the Donbas. Yes, they want to have relations between the Donbas and Crimea, ”Zhovkva said.
“Regarding Moldova, yes, we heard the announcement of the Russian official,” continued Zhovkva. “Who knows? You never know about Russia, but … it could be a very big possibility. ”
After withdrawing from around the capital Kyiv in northern Ukraine earlier this month, Russian troops last Monday launched an anticipated offensive on the Donbas, which is home to two breakaway areas held mostly by Moscow-backed separatists: the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and the Republic of Donetsk. Luhansk people.
In a speech last Friday, Zelenskyy repeated his warning that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “intended only as a start,” and that Putin then intended “to seize another country.”
“All nations that, like us, believe in the victory of life over death must fight with us. They had to help us, because we were the first on this road. And who’s next?” Zelensky said. “If whoever could be next wants to stay neutral today so as not to lose anything, this is the riskiest bet. Because you will lose everything.”
Doug Lute, a retired Army lieutenant general and former US ambassador to NATO, agreed with Zelenskyy’s assessment of Putin’s ambitions on Sunday.
“I think he wants to do that. President Putin wants to do that. He wanted to expand the power of Russia in his environment. He wanted to recreate something like the ancient Russian empire,” Lute told ABC’s “This Week” in an interview.
However, such a Soviet Union recovery was “not within” Putin’s capabilities, Lute said, adding: “There is a huge gap here between his goals and his capabilities.”