Russians defining their way out of the war?
Today, Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy claimed that the “the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed," referring to the invasion of Ukraine. Essentially the goals of the operation were to reduce the combat potential of Ukrainian forces, and “allowing us, I emphasize again, to focus the main efforts on achieving the main goal - the liberation of Donbas." (https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/25/europe/russian-general-calls-encirclement-of-ukrainian-cities-a-deliberate-plan/index.html) This is a far cry from the stated goals of the operation made by Putin a few weeks ago, which included denazification (or leadership decapitation), neutralization and disarmament. Now the goal is simply to “liberate” the Donbas (which was the focus of the Duma resolution passed unanimously prior to the beginning of the war).
Why the shift? I think there are three reasons: 1) the scaled down goals do reflect the reality on the ground—there is a real sense that war has reached a turning point that is trending in Ukraine’s favor 2) the Kremlin is seeking some way to spin this disaster as a “victory” and by scaling down goals so that victory can be declared, because, after all the they can claim that liberation of the Donbas was the real goal of this “special operation”; 3) This sells well in Russia, where most people still think that the operation was about liberation of the oppressed Donbas,
In many ways this statement is showing how Russia view’s a way out of this mess. If Ukraine and the West were to recognize annexation of the Donbas or at least “liberation” via de facto independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, the Russians can claim some sort of face saving “victory”. This is Putin’s fig leaf, but it comes from desperation. But it may be the way in which the Russians signal what they would accept to end this war.