Russia seems to be reducing its war ambitions to “liberate” the Donbass

In a pared-down formulation of its war aims, Russia said on Friday that the first phase of its military operation was almost complete and that it would focus on the full “liberation” of the breakaway Donbass region in eastern Syria. ‘Ukraine.

The announcement seemed to indicate that Moscow could move on to more limited goals after coming up against fierce Ukrainian resistance during a month-long war. Russian troops failed to capture any major cities and were stopped at the gates of the capital, kyiv.

The Defense Ministry said Russian-backed separatists now control 93% of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and 54% of Donetsk region. Together they form the Donbass.

“The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been achieved,” Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, said in a speech.

“The combat potential of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has been significantly reduced, which … allows us to focus our basic efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass.”

A face-saving decision, according to the source

A senior diplomatic source in Moscow described it as a face-saving gesture and a possible prelude to a Russian ramp-up. His forces have been bogged down and failed to take any major cities since invading Ukraine from the north, east and south on February 24.

“Their war objectives are/were much wider than Donbass, leaving their force divided with poorly coordinated attacks on multiple fronts by unprepared troops,” the source said.

“I had anticipated the possibility of a refocusing of efforts on Donbass, but if Putin’s rhetoric remains maximalist, we need to see more evidence on the ground.”

WATCH | About 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled since the start of the war:

About 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war, according to the UN

The UN refugee agency says around 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, of which around two million refugees have entered Poland. 4:37

President Vladimir Putin said Russian forces were conducting a special operation to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine.

The West and kyiv call it a false pretext to invade a democracy, claiming that its real goal was to overthrow the government.

Russia also said it would insist that Ukraine accept the loss of Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, and recognize Donbass, where Russian-backed separatists are fighting the Ukrainian military, as independent. for eight years.

A man rides his bicycle past the gutted remains of a car and smoke rising from a fire following a Russian attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Friday. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

Ukraine says it is ready to negotiate an end to the war but will not surrender or comply with ultimatums.

Rudskoi said the Russian military considered limiting its operations to Donbass but opted to expand across Ukraine to damage its military infrastructure and tie down its forces to prevent them from reinforcing the east.

Russia has not ruled out storming cities, he said, but as its military tasks come to an end, “our forces and resources will be focused on the essentials – the complete liberation of Donbass”.

Rudskoi said 1,351 Russian soldiers died in the operation and 3,825 were injured. The Ukrainian military said some 15,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in action.