Coordinated attacks on Ukraine show Russia’s intent to remove government

Movements on the battlefield point to the unmistakable conclusion that there is nothing limited about the Russian action.

Jonathan Eyal

Jonathan Eyal

The Straits Times


February 25, 2022

SINGAPORE – Europe plunged into its worst security crisis in more than half a century after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine on Thursday (Feb 24).

And although the Russian leader referred to the invasion as a “special military operation” confined to the eastern part of Ukraine, the hints he offered about the purpose of the operation indicate that Russia’s objective is nothing less than the removal of the Ukrainian government, and the imposition of Russian control in Kyiv.

The Russian President and his country’s representatives continue to claim that they are not at war with Ukraine and that the operation is just intended to provide further protection for Russian-speaking rebels, who are in the eastern part of the country.

However, movements on the battlefield point to the unmistakable conclusion that there is nothing limited about the Russian action: Ukraine is facing a massive military offensive from all directions, as part of an operation which was clearly well prepared and thoroughly rehearsed.

Russian cruise missiles are hitting targets near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. The targets are command and control posts and the missile strikes are designed to paralyse the Ukrainian military and prevent it from offering strong resistance.

Other major cities throughout Ukraine have also reported explosions, many from Russian crack units specialising in sabotage operations. Overall, more than 70 locations across Ukraine were hit within the first 12 hours of the incursion.

The purpose of these coordinated attacks may not only be to destroy Ukraine’s military capacity but also to sow utter confusion, severely restricting the Ukrainian government’s ability to coordinate a response.

And in what is probably the grimmest news of all at this stage, there is growing evidence that Russian special forces are already landing around Odessa, Ukraine’s key harbour on the Black Sea, a city of more than one million people.

It is clear that one of Russia’s first objectives in this military campaign is to block altogether Ukraine’s access to the sea, thereby rapidly throttling the country’s economy.

In addition to the main Russian offensive which started from the east and southern approaches of Ukraine, Russian forces have started pouring into Ukraine from neighbouring Belarus in the west.

The Ukrainian state is, therefore, being crushed in a pincer movement from all directions.

However, the clearest indication that this is not a limited military operation comes from President Putin’s demands that Ukraine should be “demilitarised”, and that the very nature of Ukraine’s political system should be changed.

President Putin is on record as demanding the removal of all the military equipment Western countries have supplied to Ukraine, a task that cannot be achieved without a change of government.

Mr Putin is also insistent on what he calls the “denazification” of his sovereign neighbour. “We will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine,” Mr Putin said during an address on state television, at the start of the military offensive.

The demand is bizarre, especially given the fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is himself Jewish and, as he frequently points out, his grandparents fought against Nazi Germany in World War II.

The reality is that what Russia is looking for is a pliant, cooperative government in Kyiv. And that means regime change, which can be achieved only if the entire country is subdued.

Equally noteworthy is the chilling threat Mr Putin addressed to outside powers, warning them not to intervene in aid of the Ukrainians.

“To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any of you have faced in history,” Mr Putin said in his televised address announcing the start of the invasion.

The hint here is evidently to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Mr Putin must know that there is no chance of an outright Western military involvement. All Western governments have been explicit in ruling out this option.

Nonetheless, the fact that the Russian leader thought fit to make such a threat serves as an indication of how determined Mr Putin is to win this confrontation, regardless of the costs, and the dangers Russia itself is running.

The biggest imponderable now is the force of the Ukrainian resistance, and how well the Ukrainian military will do in repelling or slowing down Russian incursions. For the moment, there are no indications of a strong Ukrainian military response.

But there are plenty of indications of confusion in the Ukrainian government.

For political reasons, President Zelensky has spent the last few weeks playing down the danger of a Russian invasion. That is why his government failed to call for a full mobilisation of Ukrainian reserves.

The lack of preparation is now showing, with serious disorganisation in the government forces’ ranks. Hours after the Russian invasion began, President Zelensky went on national TV calling on any civilian who wishes to fight the invader to come forward and obtain a weapon.

But this is merely proof of desperation, rather than part of a strategy. So, at least for the moment, the Russian troops are advancing without encountering serious opposition.

Matters could change, however, when the Russians approach some of Ukraine’s biggest cities, especially if a column of tanks encircles the capital of Kyiv.

The Russians are clearly hoping for a quick operation that results in the crumbling of the Ukrainian military, and perhaps the flight of the Ukrainian government. That would provide Mr Putin with the ability to install a government of his own choosing.

And the Ukrainians are now scrambling to prove him wrong.

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