The Russian army leaving the suburbs around Kyiv has left behind a trail that includes civilian corpses, burnt buildings, inefficient infrastructure and entire columns of military hardware destroyed.
But officials and analysts on both sides of the conflict see it as a strategic move – not a retreat, but a reparation – and should prove successful with dire consequences for Ukraine.
“We believe that Russia is revising its war objectives,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a White House press briefing on April 4.
“All indications are that Russia will seek to encircle and eliminate Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine,” he said.
Sullivan’s comments followed Russian officials last week.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a press briefing on March 30 that “on the Kyiv and Chernihiv fronts, planned force regrouping is taking place.”
Konashenkov claimed that the aborted Russian operation around Kyiv had “created the prerequisites for the final stage of the operation to liberate the people’s republics of the Donbass.”
The “people’s republics” that Konashenkov was referring to are Russian-backed separate regions. The Russian Federation is the only UN member state that has formally recognized its independence.
According to a Russian defense expert, the redeployment presents a new offensive plan.
“Russia’s objective for the next phase of the war is to push Ukrainian forces out of the Donbass and then out of the south,” said Vladislav Shurygin, a retired captain in the Russian army and defense editor of the Russian magazine Javatra. newsweek, “Ideally by mid-May the first strike to consolidate control over the East would be to take Mariupol.”
“After that, it will be possible to push west from Mykolaiv to Odessa so that Ukraine can be cut off from the sea,” he said. “Optimistically speaking, that can be achieved by the end of August.”
A US military analyst agreed with this assessment of Russian targets for the campaign.
In a Twitter thread posted on 5 April, Lieutenant General (retd) Mark Hertling envisioned a similar campaign, laying out a rough outline of a possible Russian offensive in which the objective of the battle plan would be to encircle Ukrainian forces at Mariupol, then Will have to push from the south. Around Kharkiv to capture major transport hubs in eastern Ukraine. After that, a westward attack towards the major Black Sea port of Odessa would be logically easy to support.
However, unlike Shurygin, Hurtling is pessimistic about the Russian army’s chances of success. Russian soldiers, redeployed from the north of Ukraine, “have been in intense combat for more than six weeks. Physical, mental, psychological and emotional factors have taken their toll. Many have taken criminal action,” he wrote.
“These soldiers, I think, are done,” he said.
Hartling pointed to Ukrainian military gains in morale and supplies as potentially decisive factors in the ensuing battle.
“They have huge support from citizens, politicians, each other,” he wrote. “And they’re fighting on their own land.”
Although the war is moving away from the capital, the importance of southern Ukraine as the economic vitality of the entire country is deeply appreciated in Kyiv.
“He who controls the sea controls international trade, and without access to the port of Odessa, it will be more difficult for the Ukrainian economy to sell its wheat and steel to the world market,” said Dr. Tyamofi Mylovanov School of Economics, told Greeley Tribune.
“This economic factor is one of the reasons why Odessa has been a military objective since the very beginning of the Russian invasion,” he said.
On 7 April, President Zelensky warned the Greek parliament of what could happen.
The Russian army, he warned, “can do to Odessa what they have done to Mariupol.”