Russia changing focus to eastern Ukraine -US officials
Russia has modified its Ukraine war strategy to concentrate on taking seizing Donbas and other regions in eastern Ukraine with a target date of early May, several US officials familiar with the latest US intelligence assessments say.
More than a month into the war, Russian ground forces have been unable to keep control of areas where they have been fighting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is under pressure to prove he can exhibit victory, and eastern Ukraine is where he is most likely to achieve that, officials say. US intelligence intercepts suggest Putin is focused on May 9, Russia’s “Victory Day,” according to a US official.
CNN reports that May 9 is a prominent holiday on the Russian calendar, a day on which the country marks the Nazi surrender in World War II with a huge parade of troops and weaponry across Red Square in front of the Kremlin.
The officials say Putin wants to celebrate a victory of some kind in his war that day.
However, other officials note even if there is a Russian celebration, an actual victory may be further off.
“Putin will have a victory parade on 9 May regardless the status of the war or peace talks,” a European defense official said. “On the other hand: a victory parade with what troops and vehicles?”
Nonetheless, US and European officials say any deadlines Moscow may set rhetorically don’t alter the reality on the ground that Russia seems to be preparing for the prospect of an extended conflict.
According to to a European diplomat, while the Kremlin is talking optimistically, Putin is preparing for a “Chechnya-style long, drawn-out war, because he, to a certain extent, has nowhere else to go on this.”