Russia declared Friday that the first phase of its military operation in Ukraine was almost finished, and would be henceforth focused completely on liberating Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, which is controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Reuters reports.
The announcement suggests Russian President Vladimir Putin's troops are "switching to more limited objectives after running into fierce Ukrainian resistance in a month of war," Reuters writes. A senior diplomatic source in Moscow characterized the strategy pivot as a "face-saving move."
"The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished," Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff's Main Operational Directorate, said in a speech, per Reuters. "The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which ... makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas." Rudskoi remarks "portrayed Russia's failure to take several major cities as deliberate," Bloomberg notes.
Centering its objectives on the separatist region "would allow Russia to correct some of the mistakes they've made so far" and "concentrate air forces and indirect fire into more limited areas," which could prove difficult for Ukrainians, notes Politico's Cristina Gallardo.
Previously, Putin had said Russian forces were on a mission to demilitarize and "de-Nazify" Ukraine, a war justification Western officials have rejected. Rudksoi also said the Russian military had initially considered "confining its operation just to Donbas" but instead opted to move across Ukraine to "damage its military infrastructure" and stop forces from reinforcing the east, per Reuters.
Also on Friday, a Russian brigade commander was reportedly deliberately run over and killed by his own forces following losses in Ukraine, further highlighting "some of the morale challenges" Russian forces are dealing with.