Much has been written about the geopolitics surrounding the war in Ukraine including sanctions, UN Security Council and UN General Assembly resolutions on war crimes in Bucha, Russian economic and information and related issues. These are well known.
The geopolitics is also regulated by the military situation on the ground for after all the war has been launched for achieving political objectives. Thus, losses and gains on the ground will dictate the achievement or otherwise of the same.
As on April 06, what is known from open-source media including messaging sites denotes that the Russian objective appears to be now to focus on the East that is Donbas and the South – Mariupol-Kherson. Here is a detailed review of the Russian and Ukrainian political objectives-
Russian and Ukrainian Political Objectives
The political objectives of the two sides – Russia and Ukraine as indicated during various periods at forums such as the UN General Assembly and Security Council as well as the negotiations held between the two sides in Istanbul are summarized as given below-
Vasily Nebenzya the Permanent President of Russia to the United Nations has outlined most recently, “We come to you, not for the land of Ukraine, but to bring the long-awaited peace to the bleeding Donbas. Not an armistice, but a real lasting peace. And for this, it is necessary to get rid of the cruelty we are talking about, to get rid of the cancerous tumor of the Nazis, which is devouring Ukraine, which will eventually begin to swallow up Russia as well”.
He also emphasized that, “And we will achieve this goal, hopefully, sooner rather than later. There can be no other way out”.
The additional Russian objectives are “legal guarantees that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO by a change in the Constitution”
This is the bottom line of Russian demand.
Russia has also demanded that Ukraine recognize the self-declared and approved by the Russian Dumas – “Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics” and recognise Crimea, annexed in 2014, as Russian territory.
On the other hand, for the Ukraine, the immediate requirement is a cease fire, withdrawal of Russia troops, security guarantees and political resolution of disputed territories the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republic and Crimea.
“Key questions during the negotiations include security guarantees, a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the political resolution of disputed territories,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a member of the Ukrainian negotiating group, has said on several occasions. He has obviously ruled out giving up any Ukrainian land. “This process may drag longer given the number of mutually exclusive positions. There are some concessions that we definitely aren’t going to make. We cannot give away any territories,” Podolyak told Bloomberg in March as indicated by the Hindustan Times.
For achieving the military objectives, it is apparent that Russia has now retracted the forces from the Kyiv as well as Sumy fronts.
Redeployment of these forces is likely to have taken place while those from Kyiv and Sumy – the Northern front and troops appear to have pulled back to Belarus and Belgorod
There are estimates that these forces could regroup for offensive operations in the Donbas or go in for rest and refitment in interior Russia. Forces from other fronts are likely to be inducted for offensive in Donbas.
On the Donbas operational front - the Russians are following two axes - one from the North from Izylum to Sloviansk and the other from the East in Lohansk Oblast from Rubizhne and Popasna towards the West.
The military objective appears to be to close the pincers Northern and Eastern to destroy the Ukrainian forces in these pincers.
Ukrainian armed forces and the Territorial Defence Forces have adopted a strong defensive posture on these axes, which had slowed down the Russian advance in the general line of Rubizhne and Popasna. Progress of operations has been slow on this front so far, thus a regrouped Russian offensive with enhanced numbers alone can make a breakthrough.
On the other hand, Ukrainian resistance has been heavy and with the relief of forces on the Kyiv and Sumy front these are likely to have been concentrated now in the Donbas and the south.
How these battles go remains to be seen?
On the southern front Russian objectives appear to be to consolidate the corridor from Rostov to Crimea and cut off access to Ukraine to the Sea by investing Odessa. There are reports that access to the sea has been cut off which needs confirmation.
Attempts to connect with Russian backed Transnistria – a breakaway Moldavian state may also be made but presently there is lack of adequate combat power to achieve this military objective.
The Russian forces have not been able to clear Mariupol so far with stiff resistance within – the Azov forces deployed here are the ones that are identified as the Neo Nazis.
Reports of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s forces having been deployed here who are said to be effective urban fighters have been deployed as per initial reports, however Russians have so far not gained full control of the key city.
For the time being there are no indications that the Russians may progress operations northwards from Melitopol to Dnipro and beyond.
Stiff fighting is also going on north of Mykolaiv and Kherson.
Given present situation on the front lines, concentration of forces by both sides and the overall objectives – negotiations are in the stage of agenda setting which is not firmed up so far and presently these are dictated by progression of operations on the ground
That there is a temporary change in the Russian objectives due to lack of favourable development of operations in Kyiv is evident. However, there is unlikely to be any change of aims of securing Donbas and the corridor to Crimea.
Objectives towards Odessa and the East will also be progressed based on development of operations and mustering of additional forces from the Russian side.
This is the Russian bottom line; how Ukrainian resistance moves forward hereon remains to be seen?