You trust the Kremlin’s spokesman to be candid about Russia’s intentions, don’t you?
“Some progress has been made,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during a press briefing, referring to three rounds of talks with Kyiv…
She also said Moscow does not intend to occupy Ukraine or overthrow its government.
The army’s aim is “not to occupy Ukraine, or the destruction of its statehood, or the overthrow of the government. It is not directed against the civilian population,” Zakharova said.
The Russian army has been shelling cities like Kharkiv and starving cities like Mariupol for days. The claim that its offensive isn’t directed against civilians is a breathtaking lie even by Russian standards.
But even so, this is the second time in three days that they’ve retreated from Putin’s early pledge to “denazify” Ukraine by replacing its leadership with puppets from Moscow. Why do that? If this is a test of wills between east and west, why would Russia risk signaling a loss of resolve by stepping back from Putin’s initial demands?
All I can think is that the Kremlin has absorbed the hard reality that there’s no good outcome for them in Ukraine and thus a face-saving peace deal with the existing government is their only chance for a semi-respectable exit. If they kill Zelensky now, the fury among Ukrainians might make near-term negotiations impossible. Zelensky might be the only leader in Ukraine at this point with the moral authority to get his constituents to accept a difficult peace deal, in fact. If he dies and his successor approves the annexation of Crimea and the Donbas by Russia, Ukrainians might regard those concessions as illegitimate, a giveaway by a quisling which the lionhearted Zelensky never would have condoned. That could lead to the country breaking up followed by a long insurgency among Ukrainians who consider the new government in Kiev some sort of Vichy regime.
So maybe Russia needs Zelensky around at this point to do a deal. Or, alternately, maybe they’re secretly still angling to kill him and hoping to accuse his own security detail of having done the deed once it happens, as ludicrous as that may be. “Surely Russia isn’t to blame. We said we weren’t trying to topple their government, didn’t we?” Remember the Putinist version of Occam’s Razor: The more sinister explanation is usually the correct one.
One of Zelensky’s deputies said this morning that they’re ready for negotiations — but that they won’t concede a single inch of Ukrainian territory, which would seem to leave the options for a face-saving Russian retreat slim.
“Surely, we are ready for a diplomatic solution.”
Ukraine is open to discussing Russia’s demand of neutrality as long as it’s given security guarantees, but won’t surrender a “single inch” of territory, says Ihor Zhovkva, Zelenskiy's deputy chief of staff https://t.co/7Q2jtf35qJ pic.twitter.com/K1XrnD7kiY
— Bloomberg TV (@BloombergTV) March 9, 2022
Another complication is that Russia might want more than just official recognition of its sovereignty over the Donbas and Crimea. You can see a strategy emerging on this map:
1) A look at the military situation in eastern and central Ukraine, & around the capital of Kiev. This will use several maps, from @nytimes & @BCC. First the overall picture, using map from @nytimes. The strategic situation for Ukrainian force in Kiev & to the east is not good. pic.twitter.com/pP5n6A8zgO
— Bill Roggio (@billroggio) March 9, 2022
Russian forces in the north near Kharkiv might move south to link up with forces around Melitopol pushing north. Combined, they could target the city of Dnipro. If Dnipro falls, eastern Ukraine would be cut off from the west. And the many Ukrainian soldiers in the east who’ve been battling Russian separatists in the Donbas would suddenly find themselves surrounded.
What does Zelensky do if Putin consolidates control over eastern Ukraine and offers a withdrawal from the rest of the country if the Ukrainian government concedes the eastern half to Russia?
That’s strictly hypothetical. As you can also see on the map, the Russian military is also preparing to inflict pain on Kiev itself, which is west of Dnipro. Whether their forces are prepared for urban combat is unclear but a siege seems likely:
Klitschko's remarks here match congressional testimony by U.S. intelligence officials yesterday.
Increasingly desperate times appear to be coming. https://t.co/wHFIkDsRuf
— Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe) March 9, 2022
The U.S. has begun quietly preparing for a Ukrainian government in exile although it’s unlikely that that would be led Zelensky, who seems intent on staying in Kiev. Presumably his would-be successor has already left the capital for the relative safety of Lviv in the west or even Poland, ready to lead Ukraine from a distance if Zelensky is assassinated.
Other Ukrainians are also preparing for life after the government falls:
According to Anton, 250 fighters have fanned out all around Kyiv, but 800 more are embedded in different units of Ukraine’s armed forces or territorial defense, fighting to keep the Russians out of the capital.
“If these units are destroyed or moved back,” he says, “they will remove their fatigues, put on civilian clothing and become insurgents that very day. They can operate autonomously, with their own resources, and make life a living hell for the invaders. Morale is extremely high.”
Not only that, the Resistance Movement has apparently fielded any number of scouts, informants and civilian reconnaissance teams, including, Anton says, “little old ladies and old men with canes, who watch the enemy’s movements and then call in their location.”…
More potential guerrillas are being produced daily. “We have two training camps, one in central Ukraine, one in western Ukraine,” Anton says. “We teach our fighters how to stop a tank, how to bomb it, how to burn out Russian vehicles. We’ve been instructing people for the last seven days.”
With his economy in ruins, troop morale low, and the pieces for an insurgency already being put in place, you can understand why Putin might be looking for a deal. Even the cities currently under Russian control don’t seem under control:
Day 14. Good morning. Video: Kherson – the only regional capital that has fallen. Ukrainian crowd of protestors gets angry after Russian troop start beating up a protestor. Russians open fire (in the air) and that does not stop but mobilize protestors. Pure anger and no fear pic.twitter.com/MQQJwyyVju
— Tymofiy Mylovanov (@Mylovanov) March 9, 2022
I’ll leave you with Zelensky’s latest address. I don’t think he’s leaving.
Zelensky: “Our military managed to replenish its arsenal due to the many pieces of equipment it took on the battlefield. Enemy tanks, armored vehicles, ammo will now work for our defense. What could be more humiliating for the invaders? We’ll beat the enemy with its own weapons.” pic.twitter.com/d66ghGCpgX
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) March 9, 2022