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KYIV/MARIUPOL: Moscow wants to take full control over southern Ukraine, a Russian general said on Friday, a statement Ukraine said gave the lie to Russia’s previous assertions that it had no territorial ambitions.

Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, was quoted by Russian state news agencies as saying full control over southern Ukraine would give it access to a breakaway, Russian-occupied part of Moldova in the west.

That would cut off Ukraine’s entire coastline and mean pushing hundreds of miles west beyond current lines, past the major Ukrainian cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa.

Moscow says it is conducting a “special military operation” to demilitarise Ukraine and liberate its population from people it calls dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and its Western allies say Russia’s invasion is an unjustified war of aggression.

“They stopped hiding it,” Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Twitter. Russia had “acknowledged that the goal of the ‘second phase’ of the war is not victory over the mythical Nazis, but simply the occupation of eastern and southern Ukraine. Imperialism as it is.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment when asked if Russia had expanded the goals of its operation and how Moscow saw the political future of southern Ukraine.

A senior EU official said the next couple of weeks were likely to be decisive.

“This is not a fairy tale with an imminent happy ending. I think we are likely to see a very significant increase in the intensity of Russian military attacks in the east, I think we are likely to see an intensification of Russian military attacks along the coast,” the official told reporters.

Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces had increased attacks all along the frontline in the east and were trying to mount an offensive in the Kharkiv region, north of their main target, the southeastern Donbas region.

In Kharkiv city, Russian shellfire hit the main Barabashovo market. Ambulance services said there had been casualties but no details were available yet. A wedding hall and a residential building were also struck.

In Geneva, the United Nations human rights office said there was growing evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, including indiscriminate shelling and summary executions. It said Ukraine also appeared to have used weapons with indiscriminate effects.

Russia denies targeting civilians and says, without evidence, that signs of atrocities committed by its soldiers were faked.

COLLECTING BODIES

Russia said on Thursday it had won the war’s biggest fight - the battle for the main port of the Donbas, Mariupol - after a nearly two-month siege. President Vladimir Putin said he had decided not to try to root out thousands of Ukrainian troops still holed up in a huge steel works there, but to barricade them inside instead.

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