After a month of fierce yet inconclusive fighting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, events on the battlefield suggest Moscow may be narrowing its focus to the disputed Donbas region in the east rather than trying to overthrow the government in Kyiv and rule the entire country.
Russia’s drive toward the Ukrainian capital has ground to a halt, with units no closer than they have been in weeks. Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said in a Friday speech that the fighting so far “makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas.”
The Donbas is in an area of southeastern Ukraine where parts are controlled by pro-Russian separatists who formed two governments from the region: the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. The U.S. and most other countries have not recognized either breakaway state, but Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would recognize them.
It may be a face-saving shift by the Kremlin, but U.S. officials say they see a reflection of Mr. Rudskoi’s words on the ground inside Ukraine.
Russian forces “are digging in [and] establishing defensive positions. They don’t show any signs of being willing to move on Kyiv from the ground,” a senior Defense Department official said in a Friday background briefing.
The Russians are continuing to launch airstrikes against Ukrainian positions, but Pentagon officials said they are turning toward securing any gains in the eastern part of the country where fighting has been ramping up.
“At least for the moment, they don’t appear to want to pursue Kyiv as aggressively, or frankly, at all. They are focused on the Donbas,” the Pentagon official told reporters.
Russia pushed thousands of troops into neighboring Ukraine in late February in what Mr. Putin referred to as a “special operation” to root out nationalists and “neo-Nazis.” They expected to topple Ukraine’s government within days but have been met with a stiffer-than-expected resistance.
The U.S. and other countries have imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow in an effort to force them to pull back