The Russian ministry of defense has tacitly admitted that their military will be unable to achieve President Vladimir Putin’s main goal of overthrowing the Ukrainian government and occupying many of the major cities like Kyiv.
Instead, the Russian military will concentrate on consolidating and expanding gains made by Russian separatists in the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine.
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Ukrainian forces are actually recapturing towns on the outskirts of Kyiv and the city of Kherson has been at least partially liberated from Russian control, according to numerous press reports, the Pentagon, and independent sources inside Ukraine.
The Russian government is denying any progress by the Ukrainian military and says everything is just peachy.
In an announcement that appeared to indicate more limited goals, the Russian Defence Ministry said a first phase of its operation was mostly complete and it would now focus on the eastern Donbass region, which has pro-Russia separatist enclaves.
“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass,” said Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate.
Reframing Russia’s goals may make it easier for President Vladimir Putin to claim a face-saving victory, military analysts said. Moscow had said its goals included demilitarising Ukraine. Western officials dismiss this as a baseless pretext for a war they say is aimed at toppling Ukraine’s government.
If Putin is successful in slicing off a significant chunk of Ukrainian territory in the east and negotiates a settlement that neuters and disarms Ukraine, he will have achieved 75% of his war aims. This is not the total victory he was hoping for, but considering that he has upended the old world order and initiated another cold war, Putin has complicated life for his U.S. enemy enormously.
General Rudskoi said Russia could still mount an offensive against Kyiv and other major cities, but that the main purpose of positioning troops outside those cities was to prevent Ukraine from sending reinforcements to the east. Russian troops have been slowly advancing westward from the portion of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian-backed separatists, and have been bombarding the port city of Mariupol, the biggest population center in the part of the Donbas that was controlled by Ukraine before the war.
“We do not exclude” the possibility of storming cities, General Rudskoi said, but “our forces and resources will be concentrated” on the Donbas.
Russia has said that its terms for peace also include Ukrainian recognition of Russian control of Crimea, which President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces seized from Ukraine in 2014, and of the independence of the Russia-backed Donbas statelets, the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic.” President Volodymyr Zelensky has ruled out ceding Ukrainian sovereignty to stop the war, and Russia’s continued offensives appear aimed at creating facts on the ground to force him to accept.
President Zelensky can dream of Crimea’s return but it’s not going to happen under any circumstances. And any negotiated settlement will include Ukraine’s recognition of the two Russian provinces masquerading as independent states, Donetsk and Luhansk. Any additional territory Putin can gobble up in the east before he’s forced by sanctions to quit is pure gravy.
The war is far from over and Putin will continue to pound civilian targets in the cities to keep the pressure on Ukraine’s government. But Vladimir Putin has apparently given up on his plan to conquer Ukraine and create a Russian vassal state on his flank.