Russia Changes Tack Away from Kyiv

As the war in Ukraine grinds into its fifth week, emerging signs point to a potential change of tactic for Putin. Statements from the Kremlin indicate a refocusing on eastern Ukraine, and recent talks in Turkey brought Russian promises of a cooling off. Still, observers in the West warn Russian claims cannot be trusted.

The Russian Defence Ministry released statements in recent days that suggested a shift in priorities. The Ministry said the goals of the “first stage of the operation” had been “mainly accomplished”.

Further, they asserted Russia would now focus on securing the separatist region of Donbas in the east of Ukraine. “Our forces and means will be concentrated on the main thing: the complete liberation of the Donbas,” said senior military commander Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi.

While Russia “does not exclude” storming major Ukrainian cities like Chernihiv and Kyiv from its plans, their subjugation is no longer the primary objective.

Some are hopeful these statements indicate a change in tactic for Putin, from total subjugation of Ukraine to a more limited control in the East. Head of intelligence at Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence, Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov believes that “in fact, this is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine”.

Some observers are eager to see acknowledgement of failure in the Kremlin’s statements, but experts say we should be sceptical.

It’s true that the economic and ethical drain of the war has only been increasing for Russia, and Putin may be ready to negotiate an end to the war. But other Russia experts aren’t so sure.

Russian military analyst Pavel Luzin encourages scepticism of statements made by Russian commanders, saying they could well be a feint. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken agrees – “there is what Russia says, and there is what Russia does.”

Tuesday Talks Show First Glimmer of Negotiation

Russia-Ukraine talks were held in Istanbul on Tuesday, producing the first sliver of action on the diplomatic front since the invasion began. The Kremlin promised to scale down military operations around the major cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv, seemingly aligning with their earlier statements.

The Pentagon also reports Russia has begun to move small groups of troops away from Kyiv. Spokesman John Kirby cautions this “does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over.” It’s more likely to signal a repositioning rather than a withdrawal from battle.

Though Ukraine has made proposals agreeing not to join NATO and negotiate on Crimea, Zelensky has said all proposals will need to be passed through a Ukrainian referendum – an unlikely result.

For its part, Ukraine proposed Kyiv would agree not to join international military alliances or host bases of foreign troops. They also offered a 15-year consultation period on Crimea’s status. President Zelensky said, “we can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells.”

It’s unlikely the tentative promises and proposals made in Istanbul will lead to a swift diplomatic resolution to the war. But they provide hope for both sides to move towards a winding down of the drawn out humanitarian disaster of the past month.

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