Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has described the capture of eastern Ukraine’s Donbass as an “unconditional priority”. It is about pushing the Ukrainian army and battalions out of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which Moscow recognizes as independent states, Lavrov said in an interview with the French broadcaster TF1, according to the Russian foreign ministry. The ministry published the answers on Sunday on its website.

In other areas of Ukraine where Russia is conducting a “military operation,” residents themselves must decide their future, Lavrov said. On the other hand, the government in Kyiv expects that there could be a controlled referendum in the Ukrainian region of Cherson on the proclamation of a “people’s republic” based on the model of the pro-Russian separatist areas of Luhansk and Donetsk.

At the beginning of the war of aggression on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow did not want to occupy the Ukrainian territories, but would see how the people would react. In the interview, Lavrov again spoke of an alleged “liberation” of the Donbass from the “Kiev regime”.

Lavrov also denied rumors that Putin was ill. “I don’t think that reasonable people can see in this person signs of any kind of illness or infirmity,” Lavrov said.