Russia changes course to post victory in early May in eastern Ukraine, US officials say

More than a month into the war, Russian ground forces were unable to maintain control of the areas where they fought. Russian President Vladimir Putin is under pressure to demonstrate he can show a victory, and eastern Ukraine is where he is most likely to be able to do so quickly, officials say. US intelligence intercepts suggest Putin is focusing on May 9, Russia’s “Victory Day”, according to one of the officials.

May 9 is an important holiday on the Russian calendar, a day when the country marks the Nazi surrender in World War II with a huge parade of troops and weapons in Red Square in front of the Kremlin. Officials say Putin wants to be able to celebrate a victory – of some sort – in his war that day.

But other officials note that while there is a Russian celebration, an actual victory may be further away.

“Putin will hold a victory parade on May 9 regardless of the state of the war or peace talks,” a European defense official said. “On the other hand: a victory parade with which troops and which vehicles?”

Yet US and EU officials say any deadlines Moscow may rhetorically set don’t change the reality on the ground that Russia appears to be preparing for the prospect of a protracted conflict in Ukraine.

A European diplomat said that while the Kremlin is talking optimistically, Putin is preparing for a “long and interminable war in Chechnya, because he has, to a certain extent, nowhere else to go”.

There are several reasons behind the May delay, according to officials. As the winter freeze ends and the ground softens, it will be more difficult for heavy Russian ground units to maneuver, meaning it’s vital these forces get into position as soon as possible, services assess. American intelligence.

Russian-backed fighters have also already been present in this region for years. In 2014, Russian separatist forces took control of territory in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. Prior to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin announced that he recognized two self-declared independent republics in the Donbass region.

Ukrainian officials have also publicly stated the date. “Before May 9, Putin set himself the goal of a victory parade for this war,” Ukrainian Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said Thursday.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday that Ukrainians believe they face a “very complex and difficult” situation as Putin tries to meet a deadline.

“His ultimate goal is, was and will be to take control of Ukraine, but he failed. He failed because of very strong determination of the Ukrainian army and very strong unity of Ukraine and the Western world, and the sanctions that have been imposed by the United States and the G7 and the European Union,” Yatsenyuk said. “So now, as far as I know, Putin has moved on to plan B. My view is that this plan B has some sort of deadline. The deadline is May 9.”

The United States also believes Putin is now preparing for the first time to appoint an overall war commander in a bid to secure greater Russian successes, two of the US officials said. The American belief is that Putin is likely to appoint a general who has been in the south because that is where the Russians have achieved their goals.

CNN previously reported that there is no theater-wide commander on the ground in or near Ukraine, and units from different Russian military districts operating in different parts of Ukraine appear to be competing for resources. rather than coordinating their efforts, according to two US defense officials.

One of the signs that the Russians are regrouping is that their troops retreating from combat zones north and east of kyiv appear to have moved north, in some cases into Belarus, to resupply. The United States believes this will put it in a position to move southeast into the Donbass region. One of the goals of the Russian battlefield in the Donbass would be to cut off Ukrainian troops already there so they cannot retreat to defensive positions or link up with other Ukrainian forces, officials said.

But a shift from the battlefield to the east on the ground might do little to stop the ongoing Russian air assaults by missiles and long-range aircraft in the rest of Ukraine, particularly in the South.

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