Major General Rustam Minnekaev, Deputy Commander of Russia’s Central Military District, has announced that Russia’s Ministry of Defence now intends to establish complete control over the Donbas and the south of Ukraine, according to the Russian state news agency.
According to the general, Russia now intends to create a land corridor linking Crimea to Russia through the Donbas, as well as another land passage to Transnistria, an unrecognised breakaway republic in neighbouring Moldova, which has had a Russian military presence since 1992.
“One of the major objectives of the Russian army is to establish full control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine,” the General said at a meeting with heads of the Russian defence industry.
Since the start of the war on 24 February, Russia’s invasion has displaced more than 5 million people and has led to the death of at least 2,700 civilians.
Russia has consistently shifted its justification for starting the war. In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his “special military operation” under the pretext of the demilitarisation and “denazification” of Ukraine.
After facing stiff Ukrainian opposition, Russia dropped claims that it sought regime change or aimed to annex new territories. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 11 April that taking additional territory from Ukraine would “contradict” Russia’s goals.
As Russia’s northern assault on Kyiv and other cities collapsed, Russian rhetoric shifted once again. Rather than to capture Kyiv, the goal of the war was now to “liberate” Ukraine’s Donbas region. A “scaled-back” war, Russia claimed, after military victories in and around Kyiv.
“The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” claimed Sergei Rudskoi, Head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, at the end of March.
Minnekayev did acknowledge that Russia had taken heavy losses at the start of the war, but stated that Russian forces had “quickly adapted” and “changed tactics.” Russia rocket attacks, he said, allowed Russia to attack Ukrainian forces without losing troops.
Ukrainian estimates put Russian casualties in the war so far as over 20,000.