Analysts say Russia’s war goals are unchanged but its revised strategy may be the result of unexpected challenges on the ground. Russia has promised less military activity around Kyiv, with a stated aim of building trust in the diplomatic process. It says it is now focusing on the east of the county, but amid fresh accusations that Moscow has committed atrocities near the capital, analysts are far from certain that Russia can be trusted. On March 29, after talks with Ukrainian negotiators in Istanbul, Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin announced that “in order to strengthen confidence”, the decision had been made to “radically” reduce Russia’s military activities near Kyiv and Chernihiv in northern Ukraine. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed that invading troops would be concentrated in the Donbas region. Overall, the main tasks “of the first phase of the operation have been completed”, he said in Moscow, adding that it was now possible to focus on the “liberation of the Donbas”, where the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics are located. “It is possible that the war is moving to the east,” Alexander B Downes, associate professor of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University, told Al Jazeera. “That would be a good thing because it likely means that Putin has abandoned his goal of conquering Ukraine and removing the Zelenskyy [government].” However, Downes believes the Russian statements of intent are far from credible. “They would be credible coming from a ‘normal’ leader or state but are [unreliable] from a pathological liar and purveyor of disinformation like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. To be credible, Russia’s words would need to be matched by deeds that would be costly if Russia’s real goal was to stick with its initial objectives,” he said. “What we have seen so far is a partial withdrawal of Russian units around Kyiv, which is an ambiguous signal – maybe they will be sent to eastern Ukraine, but maybe they will return to Kyiv to continue the fight there. At this point, we do not know which it is.” He explained that Russia may have revised its strategy because “the combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces has been significantly reduced”. The eastern areas of Ukraine are home to Russian-speaking communities – some of which, according to Wyn Rees, professor of international security at the University of Nottingham, would support being ruled by Moscow. “This has a far greater attraction to the Kremlin than trying to exert control over towns and cities in the rest of the country that are implacably opposed to Russia. Fighting an urban insurgency in the face of a highly motivated foe is an unattractive prospect,” he told Al Jazeera. “A change in strategy is consistent with the stated objectives of the Russian government. They claimed to be intervening in Ukraine to rescue pro-Russian communities from genocide and defeat neo-Nazis. Moving the centre of gravity of their operations to the Donbas is consistent with their narrative and offers the longer-term possibility of absorbing parts of Ukrainian territory into Russia. Making a virtue of a necessity appears to be logical,” Rees added. But, here, too, experts are rather sceptical. “It could be a strategy for the short term while the Russians resupply and change over their units. What the Russians ‘say’ and what they ‘do’ have proven to be very different things,” said Rees. “Nevertheless, such a change of priorities, as outlined above, would make sense in the light of high . . . read the full article here.