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Russia declares a limited war goal to “liberate” Donbass

Russia declares a limited war goal to “liberate” Donbass
  • Military official says focus is on separatist eastern regions
  • Russia says Ukraine’s combat capabilities ‘significantly reduced’
  • Russia says 1,351 soldiers have been killed, Ukraine says the real number is higher

LONDON (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday that the first phase of its military operation was mostly complete and that it would focus on “liberating” the breakaway eastern Donbass region entirely.

The announcement appears to indicate that Moscow may be turning to more limited targets after facing fierce Ukrainian resistance in a month of war.

The Defense Ministry said the Russian-backed separatists now control 93% of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and 54% of Donetsk region. They together make up the Donbass.

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“The main objectives of the first phase of the operation have generally been achieved,” said Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff, in a speech.

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

A senior diplomatic source in Moscow described it as a face-saving move and a possible prelude to Russia’s backsliding. Its forces have faltered and failed to capture any major city since the invasion of Ukraine from the north, east, and south on February 24.

“Their war objectives are much broader than in Donbass, and their force has been left divided with poorly coordinated attacks on multiple fronts by unprepared forces,” the source said.

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“I was expecting that efforts could be refocused on Donbass, but while Putin’s rhetoric remains extreme, we need to see more evidence on the ground.”

“Discharging and bleeding”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russian forces are conducting a special operation to disarm and “disarm” Ukraine.

The West and Kiev call this idea a false pretext for the conquest of democracy, saying that its real goal is to overthrow the government.

Russia also said it would insist Ukraine accept the loss of Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, and recognize the independent Donbass Front, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army for the past eight years.

Ukraine says it is ready to negotiate an end to the war, but it will not yield to ultimatums.

Rudskoy said the Russian military had considered limiting its operation to Donbass only but had chosen to expand through Ukraine to damage its military infrastructure and tie up forces to prevent them from strengthening the east.

He said that Russia did not rule out the storming of cities, but that as its army completed the tasks, “our forces and resources will be focused on the main thing – the complete liberation of Donbass.”

Rudskoy said 1,351 Russian soldiers were killed in the operation and 3,825 were wounded. The Ukrainian military said about 15,000 Russian soldiers were killed in the fighting. Read more

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Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan in London and Alexander Winning in Johannesburg; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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