Russia appears to have shifted direction, with the country's top diplomat stating that Moscow's ultimate objective is to overthrow the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, even as Russian artillery barrages and air attacks continue to bombard Ukrainian cities.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remark comes amid Ukraine's efforts to resume grain exports from its Black Sea ports, which would help reduce global food shortages, under a new agreement put to the test by a Russian weekend strike on Odesa.
Lavrov told envoys at a summit of the Arab League in Cairo on Sunday evening that Moscow is determined to assist Ukrainians in "freeing themselves from the burden of this utterly unacceptable regime."
Lavrov accused Kyiv and "its Western allies" of spreading misinformation designed to turn Ukraine into "Russia's eternal enemy."
"Russian and Ukrainian people will continue to coexist, and we will certainly assist the Ukrainian people in removing their anti-people and anti-historical regime," he stated.
Lavrov's comments contrasted markedly with the Kremlin's stance at the beginning of the war, when Russian officials repeatedly emphasized that they had no intention of toppling Zelensky's government.
Lavrov maintained that Russia was prepared to discuss an agreement to cease hostilities in March when Ukraine reversed course and declared its intention to defeat Russia on the battlefield. The West has urged Ukraine to continue fighting.
Lavrov stated, "The West insists that Ukraine cannot begin negotiations until Russia is defeated on the battlefield."
After Russia and Ukraine signed identical agreements with the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul on Friday, it was still unclear when grain exports would start. The arrangements are intended to pave the way for the shipment of millions of tons of badly needed Ukrainian grain and the export of Russian grain and fertilizer.
The Kremlin reiterated on Monday that the weekend attack on the port of Odesa targeted military installations and would not impact grain shipping.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, told reporters that the strike targeted "exclusively military infrastructure."
This has nothing to do with the infrastructure required to fulfill the agreements and export grain. Therefore, this cannot and should not affect the beginning of the cargo procedure," Peskov said.
The Kremlin spokesman also stated that Moscow has no intention of halting all gas supplies to Europe and that recent restrictions on the flow of Russian gas to European countries "are simply the result of restrictions imposed by the Europeans, and the Europeans themselves are suffering as a result of these restrictions."
"Russia is a responsible gas supplier, and regardless of what the European Commission, European capitals, or the United States say, Russia has been and continues to be a major contributor to Europe's energy security," Peskov said.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian president's office reported on Monday that at least two civilians were killed and ten more were injured in the recent 24 hours of Russian fire.
Avdiivka, Kramatorsk, and Kostiantynivka were bombarded by Russian artillery in the eastern Donetsk region, where the operation was centered. An airstrike damaged at least five residences on Bakhmut.
Governor of Donetsk Pavlo Kyrylenko stated in televised remarks, "The Russians are employing scorched earth tactics across the entirety of the Donbas, firing from the ground and the air to destroy entire cities."
Additionally, the Russians attacked the Kharkiv region. In Chuhuiv, a Russian strike destroyed a local club, and rescue workers extracted several people from beneath the rubble.
The governor of Kharkiv, Oleh Sinyehubov, condemned the incident as "senseless barbarity" and compared it to a "deadly lottery" in an area where no one knew where the next attack would occur.
A 10-year-old girl was wounded by shelling in the Dnipro district, and a 7-year-old youngster was injured by Russian fire in the Mykolaiv region.