The announcement came as a surprise. On Friday, March 25, the Russian army assured that it would now focus its offensive on eastern Ukraine. The Russian command said, through Deputy Chief of General Staff Sergei Rudskoy, that: “the main goal” was here “liberation of Donbass”† Words that clash, while Russia until now claimed to want “Demilitarize and denazify Ukraine” in its entirety. The next day, thethe american president Joe Biden said to Warsaw that he “wasn’t sure† that this ad marked a change in Russian strategy in Ukraine.
Julien Théron, researcher at Sciences Po Paris, specialist in conflict and international security and co-author with Isabelle Mandraud of the book Putin, the strategy of disorder (ed. Tallandier, 2021) returns for franceinfo to the issues behind this statement.
France information: The Russian Command announced that the main objective was now “the liberation of Donbass”. sis this a reliable statement?
Julien Theron: It is important to remember that theThe arguments put forward by Russia to justify the offensive in Ukraine are part of a propaganda system directed against the Russian people. Since the beginning of the conflict, the Kremlin’s objectives, which should be fulfilled, are unknown, it is not known what it is about. The Russian Prime Minister [Mikhaïl Michoustine] had first announced an extension of the fighting, but even if Russia struck in western Ukraine, the goal failed. Russia then announced that it wanted to take the main cities. This plan also failed because the main cities were not captured. Even the attacked city of Mariupol is not won by Russia. Moscow then had a push from its forces from the south into northern Ukraine to cut the country in half along the Dnieper River. In reality, if there are changes of objectives in the strategy given to the military, it reveals political decisions† Here’s what we need to see: there is a connection between a certain military inability to penetrate deeper into Ukrainian territories and the military redefinition of Moscow†
So now we have the goal of taking over the entire Donbass. But when Putin recognized the independence of the two breakaway entities in eastern Ukraine [les “Républiques populaires” autoproclamées de Donetsk et Louhansk], it did not recognize the entire administrative territory. In fact, Putin explains that he wants to occupy all of these two areas. What hasn’t been done yet. The territory of Luhansk is almost completely controlled by Russia, but that is not the case for Donetsk.
What are the implications of this announcement for the Donbass?
We could see reinforcements on the Eastern Front, but that would require new troops. However, it is complicated to set up such reinforcement. Redeployment of troops stationed elsewhere would take time. In a conflict zone, moving armies hundreds of miles is complicated. It is difficult to estimate how Russia could really strengthen this front compared to what it has been doing for a month. Without forgetting that the Russian authorities are still objectively “from denazify† all of Ukraine.
Could this statement play a role in the negotiations between Kiev and Moscow, which are currently at a standstill?
The announcement itself has no direct effect on the negotiations. Russia has continued to multiply the announcement effects since the start of the offensive. It is the military balance of power on the ground that defines political objectives and thus diplomatic negotiations. The more difficult the situation becomes for Russia, the more it will push Moscow to negotiate. As for the eastern territories, Ukraine’s idea is not to cede these territories to Russia. The idea is that Ukraine will win the war, that was very clear. President Volodymyr Zelensky has said there are discussions, but that does not mean he is ready to make these areas independent.