The Russian military has said it is focusing its efforts on taking full control of Ukraine’s Donbass region after a month of fighting that has yielded only limited territorial gains, potentially a sign that Moscow may be backing down. hope to take larger swathes of the country.
As kyiv-led forces halted the invasion in many areas amid mounting Russian casualties, a Ukrainian official also signaled that Russia is changing tactics in the stalled peace talks.
In Moscow’s most detailed official account of its military performance since President Vladimir Putin announced the February 24 invasion, Sergei Rudskoi, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff, said: “Our forces will focus on the essentials – the complete liberation of Donbass”.
Putin said from the outset that Russia was seeking the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of Ukraine by urging Ukraine’s armed forces to lay down their arms and return home rather than defend what he called a ” junta” in Kyiv. Russian troops entered the country from several directions, including near the capital, away from Donbass.
Ukraine and its Western allies have portrayed Russia’s military push as stalled by fierce Ukrainian resistance, as well as poor planning and logistics. They dismiss Russian claims of neo-Nazi influence as nonsense. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish and the grandson of a World War II veteran.
Russian Rudskoi called the operation “successful” and described the failure to take several major cities as deliberate. He warned that Moscow could still decide to seize them. He said the operation would continue until all of its objectives were achieved, but did not say when that might happen.
Russian troops did not capture any major cities where Ukrainian forces fought. Rudskoi put Russian casualties at 1,351 killed and 3,835 wounded, the first official count since March 2. He said Moscow forces control 93% of the self-declared, Moscow-backed separatist People’s Republic and 54% of Donetsk.
NATO officials put Russian combat dead at 7,000 to 15,000 and wounded at 30,000 to 40,000.
Focus on the Donbass
Western officials said Russia now recognizes that it cannot continue military operations in multiple directions at once and may therefore suspend attacks on kyiv and other cities to focus its logistics and efforts on Donbass, where the best trained Ukrainian forces are.
Russian forces are concentrating their ground and air forces there, a senior US defense official said.
Rudskoi recited a long list of claims of success in destroying the Ukrainian military, but did not say the “demilitarization” element of the operation was complete.
Michael Kofman, a Russian military specialist at NAC, a Washington think tank, said Russia appears to be “revisiting war goals” in an effort to “prioritize where it can actually achieve military success. “.
“It gives Moscow the opportunity to end this war so that it can claim victory for the domestic public,” he said. “Politically, Russia is losing. Militarily, it is less clear. The Russian forces lost momentum and were unable to achieve most of their objectives. But this is the first chapter of the war. It is difficult to say whether we are close to the beginning, the middle or the end of the conflict.