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Russian Military Official Shifts Rhetoric, Says Army Now Focusing On 'Liberation' Of Eastern Ukrainian Regions

By RFE/RL March 25, 2022

Russia's Defense Ministry has indicated that it has scaled back its goals in Ukraine, announcing on March 25 that the first phase of its military operation was complete and it would now focus on two eastern regions claimed by Russia-backed separatists.

"The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished," said Sergei Rudskoi, the deputy chief of the Russian armed forces' General Staff.

"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 the Donbas."

Rudskoi provided the assessment in comments to reporters in Moscow as the war entered its second month.

He claimed that the initial goal of what Moscow calls a "military operation in Ukraine" was to take over Ukraine's eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, commonly known as the Donbas, parts of which came under Russia-backed separatists' control after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Rudskoi said there had been two variants for Russian military operations prior to the start of the war in Ukraine.

The first was to limit the operation to the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk, he said. But in that case, Ukraine would be able to constantly send additional troops to the Donbas, so Rudskoi said the second variant envisioning "operations on the whole territory of Ukraine with implementation of measures of demilitarization and denazification had been chosen."

Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have said since the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 that the goal of the wide-scale attack was to demilitarize and "denazify" Ukraine and topple its democratically elected government.

Despite all attempts to take over Ukraine's major cities, including the capital, Kyiv, Russian armed forces have been unable to do so during one month of intensive fighting. Battlelines near Kyiv have remained frozen for weeks, with two main Russian armored columns stuck northwest and east of the capital.

Days before launching the attack against Ukraine, Russia recognized separatist-controlled districts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that Moscow and the separatists call the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic, saying that the separatists' control must be extended throughout the two regions' entire territories.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, AFP, and Reuters

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-ukraine- goals-scaled-back/31770879.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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