December 10, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russia calls for full Ukrainian capitulation

Institute for the Study of War

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova emphasized that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine have not changed, repeating the Kremlin’s demand for full Ukrainian political capitulation and Kyiv’s acceptance of Russia’s military and territorial demands rather than suggesting any willingness to negotiate seriously. In a written interview with AFP on December 9, Zakharova claimed that a “comprehensive, sustainable, and fair resolution” in Ukraine can only happen if the West stops “pumping up the Armed Forces of Ukraine with weapons” and that Ukraine surrenders Russia’s claimed Ukrainian territory and “withdraws its troops,” presumably from Ukrainian territory Russia claims to have annexed. Zakharova emphasized the Kremlin’s longstanding claim that Russia invaded Ukraine for “de-militarization,” “denazification,” and to “ensure the rights of Russian-speaking citizens” in Ukraine. The Kremlin has consistently used the term “denazification” as code for the removal of the elected government of Ukraine and its replacement by some government the Kremlin regards as acceptable—i.e., regime change. “De-militarization” would obviously leave Ukraine permanently at Russia’s mercy. Zakharova’s comments clearly highlight the fact that the initial goals of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as set out by Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 24, 2022, have not changed, and that Putin does not intend to end the war unless his maximalist objectives have been accomplished. ISW continues to assess that Russia does not intend to engage in serious negotiations with Ukraine in good faith and that negotiations on Russia’s terms are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender.

Zakharova’s demand that Ukraine withdraw its troops from “Russian territory” as a necessary prerequisite for the resolution of the war suggests that Russia’s maximalist objectives include controlling the entirety of the four oblasts it has illegally annexed parts of. Russian forces currently militarily control portions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, and Kherson oblasts, but Russia formally (and illegally) annexed the entirety of these oblasts in September of 2022. Zakharova’s suggestion that Ukrainian forces must entirely withdraw from territory that Russia has claimed through its sham annexation suggests that the Russian demands include the surrender of additional Ukrainian territory that Russian forces do not currently control up to the administrative borders of the four occupied oblasts. Calls for Ukraine’s capitulation under the current circumstances of Russian control of Ukrainian territory up to the current frontline are already unacceptable from the standpoint of vital Ukrainian and Western national security interests, as ISW has previously assessed. The Russian demand for an even more expansive surrender of Ukrainian-held territory that Russian forces could likely conquer only at the cost of tremendous additional blood, treasure, and time, if they can do it at all, indicates that Russia’s aims far transcend keeping the territory Russian forces have already seized. It is noteworthy, in this regard, that Russian forces continue to conduct offensive operations in eastern Kharkiv Oblast, which Russia has not claimed to have annexed, suggesting that Russia’s territorial aims may be even more expansive than those Zakharova laid out.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova emphasized that Russia’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine have not changed, repeating the Kremlin’s demand for full Ukrainian political capitulation and Kyiv’s acceptance of Russia’s military and territorial demands rather than suggesting any willingness to negotiate seriously.
  • Zakharova’s demand that Ukraine withdraw its troops from “Russian territory” as a necessary prerequisite for the resolution of the war suggests that Russia’s maximalist objectives include controlling the entirety of the four oblasts it has illegally annexed parts of.
  • The Kremlin continues to express an increasingly anti-Israel position in the Israel–Hamas war despite feigning interest in being a neutral arbitrator in the conflict.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Latin America on December 10 likely in order to secure Latin American support for Ukraine.
  • Russian military authorities in Armenia are likely attempting to maintain military power over Armenia amidst the continued deterioration of Armenian-Russian relations.
  • Russian forces conducted a small series of missile and drone strikes against Ukraine on December 9 and 10.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced in some areas.
  • Russian milbloggers continue to criticize the purported Russian military ban on the use of civilian vehicles for military purposes.
  • Russian authorities continue long-term efforts to indoctrinate Ukrainian students in occupied Ukraine by directing funding to educational institutions in occupied Ukraine.

For full report: https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-10-2023

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