“The announcement will have no direct effect on the negotiations”, analyzes a researcher after the announcement by Russia to focus on Donbass

The announcement came as a surprise. On Friday, March 25, the Russian army assured that it would now concentrate its offensive on eastern Ukraine. This was stated by the Russian command through the Deputy Chief of Staff Sergei Rudskoy “main purpose” was here “Liberation of the Donbass”. Words that clash, whereas Russia has so far claimed to want to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine” in its entirety. Next day, thee US President Joe Biden said to Warsaw that he “was not sure that this ad meant a change in Russian strategy in Ukraine.

Julien Théron, researcher at Sciences Po Paris, specialist in conflicts and international security and co-author with Isabelle Mandraud of the book Putin, disorderly strategy (Ed. Tallandier, 2021) returns for franceinfo for the issues behind this statement.

France info: The Russian command announced that the main purpose now was “the liberation of Donbass”. Sis this a reliable statement?

Julien Theron: It is important to remember thatThe arguments put forward by Russia to justify the offensive in Ukraine are part of a propaganda system aimed at the Russian people. Since the beginning of the conflict, the Kremlin’s goals that should have been met are not known, it is not known what they are about. The Russian Prime Minister [Mikhaïl Michoustine] had first announced an extension of the fighting, but even though Russia struck in western Ukraine, this goal failed. Russia then announced that it wanted to take the main cities. This plan also failed because the main cities were not occupied. Even the city of Mariupol that is attacked is not won by Russia. Moscow had then pulled a push of its troops from the south towards northern Ukraine to cut the country in two along the Dnieper River. In fact, if there are changes in the objectives of the strategy adopted by the Army, it reveals political decisions. This is what needs to be seen: There is a link between a certain military inability to penetrate deeper into Ukrainian territories and the military redefinition of Moscow.

So we now have the goal of taking over the whole of Donbass. But when Putin recognized the independence of the two breakaway units in eastern Ukraine [les “Républiques populaires” autoproclamées de Donetsk et Louhansk], it did not recognize the entire administrative area. In fact, Putin explains that what he wants is to take all of these two territories. What has not been done yet. Luhansk’s territory is almost completely controlled by Russia, but this is not the case for Donetsk.

What will be the implications of this announcement for Donbass?

We could see a reinforcement on the eastern front, but that would require new troops. However, setting up such a reinforcement is complicated. A redistribution of forces deployed elsewhere would take time. Moving armies over hundreds of kilometers is complicated in a territory in conflict. It’s hard to know how Russia could really strengthen this front compared to what it’s already done in a month. Without forgetting that the Russian authorities are still maintaining theirs objective “of denazificere all over Ukraine.

Could this statement play into the negotiations between Kiev and Moscow, which are currently stalled?

The announcement will not in itself have any direct impact on the negotiations. Russia has continued to multiply its advertising effects since the start of the offensive. It is the military balance of power on the ground that defines political goals and therefore diplomatic negotiations. The more difficult the situation becomes for Russia, the more it will pressure Moscow to negotiate. As for the eastern territories, the idea for Ukraine is not to cede these territories to Russia. The idea is that Ukraine should win the war, it was very clear. President Volodymyr Zelensky has said there are discussions, but that does not mean he is ready to grant independence to these territories.

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