Russian Maj. Gen. Rustam Minnekayev said Friday that Russia plans to take "full control of Donbas and southern Ukraine," CBS News reported.
These gains, he said, would open "a land corridor to Crimea" — connecting the separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine with the peninsula Russia annexed in 2014 — and "give the Russian army access to Transnistria." Transnistria is a narrow strip of land with around 400,000 inhabitants that is internationally recognized as part of Moldova but is de facto self-governing. Russia has had troops stationed in Moldova since 1992.
With Russian troops almost entirely in control of Mariupol, the land bridge to Crimea appears to have been established, but a large swath of Ukrainian-held territory still separates Russian forces from the Moldovan border.
Minnekayev said there is evidence "that the Russian-speaking population" in Transnistria "is being oppressed," a claim that could lay the groundwork for future Russian interventions. A few days into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko — a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — displayed a map during a meeting of his country's security council that appeared to show plans to send Russian troops from southwestern Ukraine into Transnistria.
Reuters identifies Minnekayev as "the deputy commander of Russia's central military district," while CBS refers to him as the district's "acting" commander. The New York Times says Minnekayev's role "in the Russian military's hierarchy" is "obscure."