Stuck In Ukraine, Russia Turns Goalposts To Claim Victory Saves Face

A senior military official said the real objective was to “liberate” the Donbass region in Ukraine.


Russia has redesigned its war goals in Ukraine in a way that could make it easier for President Vladimir Putin to claim a face -saving victory despite a depressing campaign in which his army has suffered an embarrassing setback, military analysts say.

Russia attacked its neighbors by land, air and sea on Feb. 24 and pushed up the capital Kyiv – where its troops have been stranded for weeks – in what Ukraine and the West say is an attempt to overthrow the democratic government of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

On Friday, however, a senior military official said the real objective was to “liberate” the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, where Russian -backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for the past eight years.

“The main objectives of the first stage of operations have generally been achieved,” said Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Directorate of Main Operations of Russia’s General Staff.

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

Donbass, where Putin accused Ukraine without evidence of launching “genocide” against ethnic Russians – has long occupied a prominent place in Moscow’s grievances against Ukraine.

But if capturing the whole of Donbass had been the objective from the start, Moscow could have launched a more limited attack and save itself from the efforts and losses involved in attacking Ukraine from the north, east and south.

“Obviously they have completely failed in everything they have done and now they are redefining what their purpose is so that they can declare victory,” said Ben Hodges, a former U.S. military commander in Europe who now works for the European Center for Policy Analysis.

“Obviously they don’t have the capacity to continue an ongoing large -scale offensive operation … Their logistical problems have been obvious to everyone, they have serious manpower issues and the resistance has gone far beyond what they could have imagined.”

High cost

The cost of Russia’s “special military operations” is high. Rudskoi, a General Staff officer, on Friday admitted 1,351 deaths among Russian soldiers. Ukraine claims the real figure is more than 10 times higher.

Oryx, a Dutch military blog that records the loss of equipment on both sides based on verifiable photos and video, said Russia had lost 1,864 pieces of hardware including 295 tanks, 16 aircraft, 35 helicopters, three ships and two fuel trains. It has confirmed the loss of Ukraine of 540 items, including 77 tanks.

Each party made a fixed claim about the amount of enemy equipment it destroyed, but did not confirm their own losses.

Frustrated in its attack, Russia has taken the road to hit the cities to pieces with rockets and artillery.

“Progress is stalled or at best very slow at this stage,” said Nick Reynolds, a ground war analyst at the RUSI think tank in London.

“The original strategy is now not fully achievable. The original strategy was to behead the Ukrainian government or cause it to collapse by simply transferring troops to the country … Obviously that is not the case; on the contrary.”

Russia has more efforts ahead to achieve the more modest goal of driving Ukrainian troops out of the east. Of the two provinces that make up Donbass, its defense ministry says the Russian -backed army controls 93% of Luhansk but only 54% of Donetsk.

Meanwhile Ukraine sounds increasingly confident.

Army Deputy Chief of Staff Oleksandr Gruzevich said on Friday that Russia needed three to five times more troops to capture Kyiv, and had been blocked in efforts to create a land corridor across the southern coast to connect Crimea annexed with Donbass.

Hodges, a retired U.S. general, said the question now was whether the West would be brave enough to overcome its fears of Russia’s increased use of chemical or nuclear weapons – which he said would not offer a tactical advantage to Moscow – and increase support for Ukraine further.

He said more equipment such as long -range rockets, artillery and drones, coupled with Western intelligence provisions, could allow Kyiv to move from defense to offensive.

“We are just distributing support to Ukraine and not flooding them,” he said. “It feels like we want to prevent them from being defeated but we’re not willing to let them win.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)


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