One Month Of Ukraine Invasion: No End To War In Sight As Russia Focuses On Freeing Donbas

The military campaign to liberate Donbas with its large Russian-speaking population may be more realistic than regime change in Kyiv. But Ukraine with the support of US and NATO is likely to offer stiff resistance. This could take months to years. There is no end in sight to the war for now.

Representative image of Russian military

Apart from President Vladimir Putin’s rather rambling television address ahead of the military action in Ukraine, there have been little indications of what Russia’s military aim was in ordering such an action. 

Expectations were that Moscow would concentrate on the Donbas region. Initially, the US too did not anticipate a full-fledged war, with President Joe Biden himself referring to “minor incursions”. It was difficult to comprehend the all-out war that Russia launched on Ukraine. Ahead of announcing military operations, Russia announced the recognition of break-away enclaves of Luhansk and Donetsk republics as independent states. Though both regions have pro-Russian governments and survive because of Putin’s support, formal recognition was announced only this February.

On Friday, the Russian Defence Ministry for the first time gave an indication that the initial goals of reducing the combat capabilities of Ukraine had been achieved. Russia would now concentrate on liberating Donbas, an enclave in Eastern Ukraine which is supported by Russian loyalists. 

"The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been carried out," said Sergei Rudskoy, head of the General Staff's main operations administration on Friday. 

He added, "The combat capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces have been substantially reduced, which allows us to concentrate our main efforts on achieving the main goal: the liberation of Donbas."

The Donbas region adjoining Russia is now split between Ukraine, which holds around two-third of the geographical territory, and Russia which holds about one-third. The two breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk are located here. So is the strategic industrial port city of Mariupol, which is the administrative headquarters of Ukraine in Donbas. 

The Russian forces have surrounded Mariupol and have destroyed large parts of the once thriving city. It’s located between Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. Crimea, which is largely Russian-speaking, was annexed by Moscow through military might and a referendum in 2014. The control of Mariupol is strategic to Russia as it will be able to cut of Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Azov and will impact Ukraine’s economy as large part of its exports is through the port. The control of Mariupol will also help to connect Crimea and the Donbas and give unhindered access to Russian movement through Mariupol.

Going by the Russian defence ministry’s statement, Moscow wanted to make sure that Ukraine’s military capabilities were destroyed. Then Russia would go on to the main task of liberating the entire Donbas region.

That makes much more sense than trying to take over Ukraine, installing a puppet government and ensuring that it does not become a part of NATO. Considering the united response of Europe and the entire Western world’s support of Ukraine’s war efforts and Ukrainian resistance, that would have been an impossible task.

Ukrainian army has been trained by both the US and NATO for a long time prior to the invasion. Boots may not be on the ground but every other kind of military help has been eagerly provided by NATO. The supply of sophisticated weapons and the determination of Ukraine’s military and civil forces to stall the Russian advance into Kyiv, Kharkiv and other major cities had perhaps led to a rethink by Vladimir Putin. Nobody is sure what Russia’s war gaols were except perhaps to ensure that Ukraine does not become a NATO member as it impinges on Russia’s legitimate security interests. Moscow is just about 300 kilometres from Ukraine’s eastern border.

Consolidation of Russian hold on the Donbas region now appears to be the primary gaol of the war. Whether this takes a couple of weeks or a year remains to be seen. But Russia’s war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on the global economy.