Over the last 24 hours, the Russian Defense Ministry has issued a flurry of news updates to Russian State Owned Media Outlets in an attempt to re-frame the embarrassing losses and stagnation in front of Ukrainian population centers.
According to RIA Novosti, the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) has acknowledged the combat losses of 1,351 soldiers since the February 24th invasion. They have also acknowledged the wounding of 3,825. The MoD has also claimed they have inflicted about “30,000 Ukrainian war dead” in the last month. The Ukrainians on the other hand are claiming they have inflicted about 15,000 Russian casualties. This is juxtaposed with more conservative Western estimates which put Russian casualties around 9,000, as reported by the New York Times.
On February 24th, the Russian Federation conducted strikes with more than 100 Kalibr Cruise Missiles and a flurry of tac-air strikes, all supporting mechanized infantry advances from four major axes of approach. The major thrusts came from Crimea in the South, Separatist-held Donbas in the East, Belarus in the North, and near Kharkiv in the Northeast. All four major fronts have met extreme resistance by the Ukrainian military, foreign fighters, and civilians, stalling out all Russian advances. The primary battlegrounds now are Mykolaiv (on the road to Odesa in the South), Mariupol in the East, Kyiv in the North, and Kharkiv in the Northeast.
In order to make a thrust in the Information Operations front, the Russian MoD has used its state-owned media apparatus to pedal a new narrative: Russia has achieved its strategic goals in Ukraine, no longer deeming it necessary to take major populations centers, but focusing on the independence of Separatist areas. Which, if you recall, was the catalyst for increased Russian operations after the Ukrainian TB-2 strike in October of 2021.
Zvezda, RIA Novosti, and Russian-owned Twitter accounts have repeated the narratives that the first phase of operations in the Ukrainian Special Military Operation are completed, that being the suppression of the Ukrainian military, despite the fact that Ukrainian ground forces have actually had limited success in several counterattacks, especially outside of Kyiv. They are also claiming that Russian forces are successfully “blocking” Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Mykolaiv, and Kharkiv. The Russian MoD is also claiming that the Ukrainian Air Force, Navy, and air defense forces have been completely destroyed, despite successful strikes against Russian aircraft, supply lines, and naval craft, such as the damaging of three LSTs in port in the Ukrainian city of Berdyansk yesterday.
So What’s Next?
This narrative is not surprising and almost expected after Russian Ground Forces failed to achieve their lightning war objectives of seizing Kyiv and Kharkiv in the first 48 hours of the invasion. The Russian MoD has laid out plainly what their next steps are: to “liberate the Donbas”. Although the Federation said they wanted to ensure security guarantees and de-nazify Ukraine, they can still walk away with a limited victory if they establish the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic to their declared borders. Based on the performance of Russian ground forces in major population centers thus far, this may be their only option in avoiding complete embarrassment in Ukraine.
Over the next few days we will probably see a consolidation of Russian gains outside of Kyiv and the aforementioned cities, but a concentration on Mariupol, considering they already have that city surrounded.