Russian Military Shifts Focus to Donbas

Russia’s defense ministry has announced it is moving its concentration to consolidate its gains in the Eastern Ukrainian Donbas region, declining to build up forces around Kyiv and other major cities.

Ukrainian defense forces have been recapturing towns on the northern outskirts of Kyiv, according to Biden’s Pentagon. Meanwhile, the Russian government denies that it has lost any of its gains in Northern Ukraine.

The Russian defense ministry has described its “first phase” of military operations almost completed by saying that it plans to now focus on the Donbas region in the eastern part of the country. That area bordering Russia has long been an enclave of pro-Russian separatists.

Russian General Staff Operational Director Sergei Rudskoi said that the shift in focus is made possible because the “combat potential” of Ukrainian forces has been “considerably reduced.” Analysts have reportedly said that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be looking for a way to claim a “face-saving victory” by demilitarizing most of Ukraine.

If Putin is able to pull away a large part of Ukraine’s eastern territory and reaches an agreement to disarm the country, it will have achieved a majority of its stated war objectives.

Rudskoi said that an offensive campaign against Kyiv and other major cities is still possible but now claims that the reason Russia moved into areas surrounding those cities was to prevent Ukrainian forces from reinforcing positions in the east. Russia has been bombarding the port city of Mariupol recently. That city is the largest population center in the Donbas region controlled by the Ukrainian government before the invasion.

Russia says that its peace terms continue to include recognition of Russian control of the Crimean Peninsula and independence of the Donbas region states of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has said that the nation will not surrender Ukrainian sovereignty to end the war.

But can Zelenskyy make such claims when negotiating with a nuclear-weapon state that is occupying his country? Or will he be forced to the negotiating table, possibly relinquishing control of a region where ongoing ethnic conflict could be resolved simply by letting go of the problem? We’ll soon find out.