The Donbass, the minimum objective of the Russian army

Residents collect firewood in a destroyed neighborhood in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 25, 2022.

“The objectives of the first stage of the special military operation in Ukraine have been fulfilled”announced the Russian command on Friday, March 25, explaining that it would henceforth concentrate its efforts on “the main objective: the liberation of Donbass”. Adapting to a more difficult military situation than expected? No, replies the Russian army.

Without an offensive on other more distant fronts, “the Ukrainian forces would have ceased to be reconstituted”assured the Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, Sergei Roudskoy, during a press briefing convened more than a month after the start of this “special operation”. Efforts therefore focused first and foremost on “denazification and demilitarization” of Ukraine, objectives which are said to be on the way to being achieved.

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This announcement of reorientation of Russian forces is to be taken with caution, as well as the figure for Russian losses unveiled at the same time – 1,351 dead and 3,825 wounded. Whatever the reality of Moscow’s intentions, its army should not relax the pressure on the other fronts, from kyiv in the north to Mykolaiv in the south. “The capture of the surrounded Ukrainian cities was not planned”thus assured General Rudskoy, but it remains “possibly”.

Endorse territorial continuity

Whether it is the main objective of the operation from the start or an adaptation of the plans, the priority given to the Donbass is logical, both in terms of strategy and communication. The “liberation” of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is even the minimum objective of the Russian offensive: without results on this particularly symbolic front, it is impossible to put an end to the operation or claim any victory whatsoever.

The extreme violence of the fighting in Mariupol, the second largest city in the Donetsk region, confirms this observation. The Russian media portray the city as on the verge of total collapse. For the first time, aerial images of the destruction have been shown on television in recent days: “In retreating, the nationalists are trying not to leave a single brick standing”, the only explanation is the comment. Civilian casualties are attributed to “Nazis” of the Azov regiment, who reportedly shot civilians trying to flee in the back.

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The capture of Mariupol is all the more vital as it makes it possible to ratify territorial continuity between Moscow and Crimea, annexed in 2014. The Russian generals do not say anything about the “maps” planned for this conquered southern portion of Ukraine, where a provisional administration is deployed.

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