What is Putin’s End Goal in Ukraine? In his seminal work Vom Kriege (On War), Prussian general and military theorist Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz offered some of the most important treatises on political-military analysis, including boldly stating, “War is the continuation of policy with other means.”
Some modern military analysts have suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin may have taken that thesis to heart when he ordered the unprovoked invasion – described as a “special military operation” – into Ukraine last winter. However, Putin apparently read the “crib notes” version, as he missed the passages that note, “In war everything is uncertain and variable,” or the thought-provoking, “War is the realm of uncertainty . . . . War is the realm of chance.”
Russia Took a Chance But Didn’t Know It
It would appear that the Kremlin had expected little in the way of chance when it began its invasion, and according to captured documents, Moscow planned to seize Ukraine within ten days and kill its leaders, while setting up a puppet government before launching a campaign to “re-educate Ukrainians” via the use of propaganda.
It certainly explains why Russian soldiers arrived with dress uniforms for the expected parades rather than winter combat gear – as Moscow was apparently certain of a quick victory.
As a result, Russia’s war aims have evolved.
In October, Putin annexed four Ukrainian regions, even as the United Nations warned it could mark a “dangerous escalation” and jeopardize any prospects for peace. Kyiv has rejected the annexation, while Ukraine’s forces have successfully driven back Russian troops, liberating swaths of the country.
What Are Russia’s Goals in Ukraine?
This week, Russia’s war aims have shifted again, and on Friday, Kremlin units have shelled the entire front line in the Donetsk region in Eastern Ukraine – believed to be a sign of Putin’s scaled-back ambition to secure only the bulk of the territory it has claimed and now holds.
According to Reuters, the fiercest fighting was near the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
Local officials said that Russian troops were trying to advance near the town of Lyman, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November.
However, Kyiv remains determined and has responded with barrages from rocket launchers.
Does Russia Have An End Game?
It is now difficult to know exactly what the Kremlin sees as its end game in Ukraine, largely because it failed to meet its initial goals.
However, it appears that Putin seeks at least some expansion of Russia’s border – which would be completely in contrast to the stated goals of the “special military operation” that was to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine.
Moreover, Putin has repeatedly accused the West of “exploiting” Ukraine, and suggested that the Ukrainian people are “cannon fodder.”
However, it could be argued that it is the Russian forces that are seen as practically disposable, especially as Putin has admitted that the operation likely won’t be ended soon – and it could evolve into just the latest “forever war.”
One recent estimate suggests Russia could be on track to lose double the number of troops of U.S. servicemen killed in Vietnam in just one-tenth of the time.
Russia is continuing to lose around 100 soldiers daily in the battle for Bakhmut, and more than 91,000 Russian military personnel have been killed since the start of the war.
The death toll likely won’t surpass 100,000 before the end of the year, but it is well on track to hit that grim miles stone by the first anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked invasion, which began on February 24.
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.