Do the Russian army’s declarations mark a turning point in the war in Ukraine?

The Russian army announced on Friday that it wanted to withdraw to eastern Ukraine, near the Donbass region. A questionable setback nurtures several hypotheses, from an admission of failure by Moscow to a strategic withdrawal.

To everyone’s surprise, the Russian army on Friday, through Deputy Chief of Staff Sergei Roudskoy, announced a change in Ukraine’s strategy: to focus on the eastern part of the country. Namely, in the Donbass region, where pro-Russian separatists have created two “republics”, Donetsk and Lugansk, recognized by Moscow in this industrial region in the eastern part of Ukrainian territory.

A message to be welcomed with caution, both Ukraine and Russia are involved in “a communication war”, stresses Peer de Jong, former colonel of the navy and specialist in geopolitics, this Saturday on BFMTV. Before specifying:

“We must be wary of the information offered to us because only a few real verifications are carried out on the spot. Russian tactics are quite inexplicable. After launching from Russia and Belarus in all directions, they are now coming up with strange withdrawal messages. You have to be careful with that kind of tactic. “

So feeding questions about Vladimir Putin’s intentions about this withdrawal: bluff or strategic withdrawal?

Move back to re-articulate

For Christian Makarian, columnist at Point, “this turn looks like an admission of failure, but one must be careful with the Russians”. The first hypothesis, the actual finding of a fall. The international political specialist points out that for the first time since March 2, Russia has delivered a balance sheet of its losses and estimates them at 1,351 dead.

“A figure below reality, but three times higher than that given in early March by 498 dead. Moscow admits it has more and more casualties, admits generals’ deaths and therefore appears to be looking for a way out of this conflict, “he continued.

Peer de Jong, for his part, believes that it is unlikely that the Russian army will leave the country, but that it would rather withdraw to better bomb it or to “rearticulate”, given the difficulties it encounters in some cities like Kiev. This is also Christian Makarian’s second hypothesis, which emphasizes that soldiers focus again where they have suffered the least damage and setbacks. Or towards Donbass.

Negotiations to annex Donbass

Third hypothesis, divert attention from the conflict and initiate diplomatic negotiations on the issue of eastern Ukraine. “It can be a maneuver to start negotiations and say that we are now limited to Donbass,” explains international political specialist Christian Makarian, before specifying:

“In the East, the Russians are stronger than elsewhere. Concentrating on this part of the country is therefore not a concession from Russia, but rather a reinforcement. It speaks of amputation of these territories by is that they want better negotiations to annex them. . “

In addition, between 2014 and 2022, “Russia distributed hundreds of thousands of Russian passports to residents of Donetsk and Luhansk who were Russian-speaking or pro-Russian,” the editor continues. So that makes them Russian citizens. “However, the Russian constitution stipulates that Russia can naturally and legitimately rescue Russian citizens sent into exile or threatened in annexed or neighboring republics. It therefore reaffirms that Donetsk and Lugansk will never return to Ukraine,” he explains.

No trust in Ukrainians

All these hypotheses must, of course, be taken with caution, experts stress. Former Colonel Peer de Jong says we just have to wait and see “whether Russia really withdraws”. Note that it was not Vladimir Putin himself who came up with this announcement, but the Deputy Chief of Staff, which adds to the mysteries surrounding this initiative.

On the spot, the people of Kiev confided in us that they did not trust Vladimir Putin and the negotiations that have taken place in recent weeks. For them, they simply have the principle of saving time. This shift towards the Donbass is also seen with suspicion, as this region was almost already in the hands of Moscow. This tactic therefore does not make sense to them.

The latter prefer to believe only in what they observe on the ground: the bombings and attacks continue uninterrupted since the announcements from the Russian army.

Clément Boutin with Clémence Dibout and AFP

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