What is Russia doing in the Ukraine?

Charlemagne

Charlemagne

Neoreactionary and related analysis of politics and meta-politics

An article came out today (March 25th) declaring that “Russia states more limited war goal to ‘liberate’ Donbass” “switching to more limited objectives.” with a “scaled-back formulation of its war goals.”

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-says-first-phase-ukraine-operation-mostly-complete-focus-now-donbass-2022-03-25/

This begs the question: more limited and scaled-back as compared to what? Apparently Russia had a broader set of goals. Let’s see what Russia’s goals were on February 24th, 2022, in the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin:

“The people’s republics of Donbass have asked Russia for help.

In this context, in accordance with Article 51 (Chapter VII) of the UN Charter, with permission of Russia’s Federation Council, and in execution of the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, ratified by the Federal Assembly on February 22, I made a decision to carry out a special military operation.

The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.

It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force. At the same time, we have been hearing an increasing number of statements coming from the West that there is no need any more to abide by the documents setting forth the outcomes of World War II, as signed by the totalitarian Soviet regime. How can we respond to that?”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-02-24/full-transcript-vladimir-putin-s-televised-address-to-russia-on-ukraine-feb-24

There are several key statements here.

1) The purpose of the “special military operation” is to protect the people of the two Donbass republics, Luhansk and Donetsk, which is to say, protect their sovereignty, at the request of those two republics.

2) To achieve this primary objective, Russia will “demilitarise and denazify Ukraine.”

3) Also, Russia will “bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians.”

4) “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force.” Russia does not intend to annex any portion of the Ukraine. The operations in Ukraine serve the end of securing Luhansk and Donetsk. Russian military forces will therefore evacuate Ukrainian territory once this is accomplished.

The Reuters article says specifically:

“”The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said in a speech.

“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass.””

The quote matches the goals laid out by Putin. The main goal is to “liberate” Luhansk and Donetsk and protect their sovereignty. In order to achieve this goal, Ukraine will be “demilitarized,” which is stated to be “considerably” accomplished in the statement “The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced.” So there is nothing here that indicates that Russia is “switching to more limited objectives.” They have the same objectives as when the operation began.

Let’s go further and draw a direct line from Putin’s original statement to the Rudskoi quote.

On March 5, 2022, Putin said at a meeting with female aircrew members of Russian airlines:

“By the way, speaking of the operation itself I know there are many speculations about it. Frankly, I have no time to get into that, but they report to me that there is much chitchat about what is going on. All analysts are seeing what is happening, so I will not reveal any secret to you. We could have acted in a variety of ways. We could simply (by the way, this answers your question, in part) help the republics of Donbass right on the line of contact, at the frontline, so to say, and simply reinforce them with our army. But in this case, the other side, I mean reckless support for nationalists and radicals coming from the West, would have provided endless support with the material resources, ammunition, equipment, and so on.

Therefore, our General Staff and the Defence Ministry took a different road. The first thing they did was destroy all the military infrastructure. Not completely but most of it: arms and ammunition depots, aircraft and air defence systems. Destroying air defence systems takes some time (you are civilians, yet you are connected with aviation) – they must be identified and then hit. This work has been practically finished. Hence the demand to impose a no-fly zone. However, doing so would have tremendous and disastrous consequences not only for Europe but also globally. I think those on the other side who are not completely at sea understand that.

That is why we chose that road, and it turned out to be absolutely correct. Our servicemen are working without haste and are doing everything to ensure the safety of civilians. Unfortunately, those bandits, neo-Nazis do not spare people. They shoot dead even their own service personnel who do not want to offer armed resistance. We know about such facts, too. Nationalists, Banderites, neo-Nazis – it is hard to call them anything else – shoot their own servicemen. These nationalists were put in nearly every military unit, up to several dozen in each, and they act in exactly that cruel way.”

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67913

Here, nine days after the operation began, Putin makes clear why the operation is taking place beyond the borders of Luhansk and Donetsk. It is not to occupy the Ukraine, it is to destroy the enemy’s military capacity, which is again to say “demilitarization.” Additionally, he reiterates the point of “denazification” which is being pursued to protect the people of Luhansk and Donetsk from the attacks on civilians that he referenced. In terms of “switching to more limited objectives,” there is no switch and no scaling back.

Again, we look at another speech on March 16, 2022, eleven days later and nine days before today, nicely bridging the gap.

“We are meeting in a complicate period as our Armed Forces are conducting a special military operation in Ukraine and Donbass. I would like to remind you that at the beginning, on the morning of February 24, I publicly announced the reasons for and the main goal of Russia’s actions. It is to help our people in Donbass, who have been subjected to real genocide for nearly eight years in the most barbarous ways, that is, through blockade, large-scale punitive operations, terrorist attacks and constant artillery raids. Their only guilt was that they demanded basic human rights: to live according to their forefathers’ laws and traditions, to speak their native language, and to bring up their children as they want.”

“The movement of Russian forces against Kiev and other Ukrainian cities is not connected with a desire to occupy that country. This is not our goal, as I pointed out openly in my statement on February 24.

As for the combat tactics drafted by the Defence Ministry of Russia and the General Staff, this has fully justified itself. Our fellows – soldiers and officers – are displaying courage and heroism and are doing all they can to avoid civilian losses in Ukrainian cities.

This is what I would like to say for the first time: at the very start of the operation in Donbass, the Kiev authorities were offered opportunities to avoid hostilities, via different channels, to simply withdraw their troops from Donbass as an alternative to bloodshed. They did not want to do this. Well, this was their decision; now they will understand what is happening in reality, on the ground.

The operation is being carried out successfully, in strict conformity with the approved plan.

I must note that, encouraged by the United States and other Western countries, Ukraine was purposefully preparing for a scenario of force, a massacre and an ethnic cleansing in Donbass. A massive onslaught on Donbass and later Crimea was just a matter of time. However, our Armed Forces have shattered these plans.

Kiev was not just preparing for war, for aggression against Russia – it was conducting it. There were endless attempts to stage acts of subversion and organise a terrorist underground in Crimea. Hostilities in Donbass and the shelling of peaceful residential areas have continued all these years. Almost 14,000 civilians, including children have been killed over this time.”

“To put an end to this genocide, Russia recognized the people’s republics of Donbass and signed treaties of friendship and mutual aid with them. Based on these treaties, the republics appealed to Russia for military aid in rebuffing the aggression. We rendered this aid because we simply could not do otherwise. We had no right to act otherwise.

I would like to emphasise this point and draw your attention to it: if our troops had acted only within the people’s republics and helped them liberate their territory, it would not have been a final solution, it would not have led to peace and would not have ultimately removed the threat – to our country, this time to Russia. On the contrary, a new frontline would have been extended around Donbass and its borders, and shelling and provocations would have continued. In other words, this armed conflict would have continued indefinitely. It would have been fuelled by the revanchist hysteria of the Kiev regime, as NATO deployed its military infrastructure faster and more aggressively. In this case, we would have been faced with the fact that the attack, the offensive weapons of the alliance were already at our borders.”

“We remain ready to discuss matters of fundamental importance to Russia’s future during the talks. This includes Ukraine’s status as a neutral country, and demilitarisation and denazification. Our country has done everything it could to organise and hold these talks realising that it is important to use every opportunity to save people and their lives.”

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67996

Putin directly referenced his original speech and reiterates and elaborates on it here. He says again that the purpose of the operation is “to help our people in Donbass” and that occupying Ukraine “is not our goal.”

He also says that Ukraine was offered the chance to withdraw their troops from Donbass. This would have naturally constituted a recognition of the sovereignty of Luhansk and Donetsk, which is the primary goal of the operation.

He emphasizes specifically, as he alluded to in the March 5th speech, why the operation is extending beyond the borders of the Donbass republics, which is of course, due to military necessity.

He again states the goals of demilitarization and denazification and the willingness to do so through negotiations during the operation.

Once again, we find no “switching to more limited objectives” or “scaled-back formulation.” The objectives are consistent all the way through.


Obviously, there are larger political objectives regarding the defense of Russia and NATO, and Putin even mentions some of these, and you’re free to believe that Putin might have his own selfish agendas as well. The latter is speculative, just as the proposition that Russia is scaling back its war aims is speculative as well. The detestable thing about the media’s speculation is that it is attempting to pass off speculation as fact. I have not speculated in this article – All of the points I have made are from quotations, and I acknowledge that there might be “secret” objectives that are not revealed, but I have no more ability to comment on that than does Reuters with their “senior diplomatic source.”

Yes, of course the main source for this article is an anonymous insider, how could it be otherwise? Here is the full quote:

“A senior diplomatic source in Moscow described it as a face-saving move and possible prelude to a climb-down by Russia. Its forces have become bogged down and failed to take any major city since invading Ukraine from the north, east and south on Feb. 24.

“Their war aims are/were much wider than Donbass, leaving their force divided with poorly coordinated attacks on multiple fronts by unprepared troops,” the source said.

“I’d anticipated the possibility of a refocusing of effort back on Donbass, but while Putin rhetoric remains maximalist we need to see more evidence on the ground.””

The source says that Russia has “failed to take any major city” despite the fact that “taking major cities” is not an objective of Russia.

I can already hear the armchair generals guffawing: “Oh, so you’re saying that you can win a war without taking cities?” No. I’m saying that Russian’s primary objective isn’t “take major cities” – they certainly have taken cities, though. There are not many “major” cities in Ukraine, anyway, and the two largest cities, Kiev and Kharkov, are enveloped and possibly double-enveloped. Mariupol, in Donetsk, is completely encircled and on the verge of being secured. Luhansk and Donetsk are secured. Kryvyi Rih, Zaporizhzhia, and Dnipro are being encroached upon. Many smaller cities are encircled within Russian-controlled territory; but the primary objective is to defeat the Ukrainian armed forces in the field, not capture prestige objectives.

The next statement by the source claims that the war aims are much wider than Donbass – of course, this is clearly directly contradicted by Putin, repeatedly. These alleged wider aims are a result of speculation. A good reason to distrust this source is the outright lie the sources tells in a a following quotation, that “Putin rhetoric remains maximalist.” By “maximalist” we can only assume that he means maximizing territorial gains outside of Donbass, even though Putin has offered no such rhetoric; it is quite the opposite, as we have seen.

We don’t need to spend more time picking this apart; I think I’ve made the point. But we are still left with why. Why is the media doing this? Well, because Russia is not conquering all of Ukraine in some sort of devastating blitzkrieg, NATO must pretend that Russia wanted to do this, but failed. The ruling elites very much needs the masses to buy into the narrative that Russia is a great enemy. The media is coping with the fact that Russia is not brutality sieging Kiev or other cities in the Ukraine by pretending that the mighty Ukrainian armed forces fended off the Russians, with the assistance of NATO, of course. It is also a sort of victory lap, as the media and “analysts” have been reveling in the ineffectiveness of the Russian military, while at the same time politicians try to convince us that Russia is the greatest threat.

You could simply choose to believe the Russia really is an inept country, despite having a history of relentless determination and success in warfare; but, it is clear that the evidence favors the idea that so-called “experts” don’t understand anything about the conflict. I’ve been following the daily updates from the Institute for the Study of War, an organization that describes itself like this:

“The Institute for the Study of War advances an informed understanding of military affairs through reliable research, trusted analysis, and innovative education. We are committed to improving the nation’s ability to execute military operations and respond to emerging threats in order to achieve U.S. strategic objectives. ISW is a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization.”

As of March 1, 2022, the following was the ISW’s understanding of Russia’s military operations:

“Russian operations against Kyiv are Moscow’s main effort. Russian troops are also undertaking three supporting efforts, one to seize Kharkiv, one to take Mariupol and secure the “land bridge” connecting Rostov-on-Don to Crimea, and one to secure Kherson and set conditions for a drive west toward Mykolayiv and Odesa.”

For an institute that specializes in “reliable research,” it is rather amazing that they were unable to research the words of the President of Russia five days after his statements regarding the initiation of conflict. As westerners seem to do when analyzing war, they are fascinated with capital cities and cities in general. But Russia’s main effort is not capturing Kiev, and the “supporting efforts” are not to capture minor cities – they are to secure the region of Donbass. This isn’t even a matter of taking Putin’s word for it – Russia must secure the Donbass as a matter of geopolitical necessity, both due to the treaties it signed with Luhansk and Donetsk, and other national security reasons.

On of March 3, 2022, a full week after the invasion began, ISW repeated the same line:

“Operations to envelop Kyiv remain Russia’s main effort. Russian troops are also continuing three supporting efforts, one to seize Kharkiv, one to take Mariupol and secure the “land bridge” connecting Rostov-on-Don to Crimea, and one to secure Kherson and set conditions for a drive west toward Mykolayiv and Odesa.”

In a more recent post, on March 23, 2022, I found an egregious quotation:

Russian mobilization efforts are likely becoming urgent given Russian losses in the war. The Wall Street Journal cites an unnamed NATO official claiming that Russia has lost as many as 40,000 troops killed, wounded, or missing of the roughly 190,000 deployed to invade Ukraine.[2] That assessment, which is plausible given previous estimates of Russian combat deaths, must be considered in the context of the assessment offered by an unnamed Department of Defense official on March 21 that Russia had committed a high proportion of its available battalion tactical groups to the war already.[3] The protracting pause of Russian offensive operations in Ukraine and increasing anecdotal reporting of breakdowns in the morale and capability of Russian combat units all accord with these assessments. These reports and assessments collectively suggest that Russia may not be able to find new combat power with which to regain offensive momentum for weeks or even months.”

The very fact that the ISW cites the obviously ridiculous 40,000 number, and moreover, declares it plausible, certainly brings into question how much the ISW provides “trusted analysis.” They’ve also said that the Russians are “bogged down” and have generally repeated these pessimistic and obviously biased MSM takes on the war. In fact, if you look at the citations in their daily analysis articles, a lot of them are twitter links, news links, and citations to the Ukrainian General Staff. They are more-or-less aggregating Ukrainian biased sources and collecting them into report. No wonder their view is so biased.

Anyway, enough on that – we don’t need to pick apart every single thing the ISW has posted. The point is that even the sources that one would regard as reliable are not really what you think they are. At ISW it’s not so much “innovative education” as it is an aggregator with nice map graphics. It’s probably the best source out there on the war, too, that isn’t pro-Russian, at least, as far as I have found.

As far as pro-Russian or Russian sources go, I would not like to focus on them, but I’ll post some for you to look at, and you can consider them. The Russian Ministry of Defense stated:

“Unfortunately, there have been casualties among our comrades-in-arms during the special military operation. As of today 1,351 servicemen have been killed and 3,825 wounded.”

In addition the Russian Ministry of Defense posted claimed Ukrainian losses:

Image

These are certainly more believable than claims made by the other side, although the personnel losses are probably significantly exaggerated. We know that Russia has conducted significant air, missile, and artillery strikes at high-value targets across the country, and that the Ukrainian air force is crippled, so the equipment numbers are more believable.

Let me reiterate the main point of this article – the idea that Russia is rolling back its ambitions in response to a losing situation is simply not born out by any evidence that doesn’t involve a significant amount of speculation. Russian statements on their strategic aims have been consistent since the operation began. Russian military movements have proceeded in keeping with their stated strategy, and Russia continues to gain territory that advances their objectives. Secondarily, most sources making claims about Russian defeat are demonstrably untrustworthy, as I have shown above, and has been shown extensively elsewhere.