The Kremlin has returned to its old rhetoric regarding Ukraine: ISW identifies the main goal of the aggressor

The Kremlin has reverted to its old rhetoric concerning Ukraine

Russia is reverting to its expansionist rhetoric regarding the war against Ukraine, reminiscent of the period before the full-scale invasion. It is once again asserting the claim that "Ukraine is part of historically Russian territory" and discussing borders it deems appropriate for the "remnant" of the state.

Statements about the "division of Ukraine" constitute an organized attempt by the Kremlin to mislead the international community, urging the rejection of key components of Ukrainian sovereignty: the country's territorial integrity, as defined in 1991, and its right to self-determination. This is stated in a report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The report notes that cynical Kremlin ideas were recently articulated by Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev. He deliberately distorted US President Joe Biden's response (during a joint press conference with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy on December 12) to a media question about whether US policy aims to win the war or assist Ukraine in defending itself. Biden had stated that the United States wants to see Ukraine win and that this "victory means that Ukraine is a sovereign, independent state that can afford to defend itself today and deter further aggression."

Medvedev, however, twisted this statement, suggesting that the United States "would be satisfied" if Ukraine simply existed as a country, without caring about its borders. He claimed that "technically, Ukraine could still be sovereign" if the entire country remained, for example, "within the Lviv region." Additionally, the Kremlin official falsely asserted that Biden had implied Washington would only support Kyiv in defense, but "would not help it launch a counteroffensive to liberate more of its lands and people." Cynically, Medvedev added that Ukraine could hypothetically "defend itself" as an "abandoned state within the Lviv region."

The Kremlin has returned to its old rhetoric regarding Ukraine: ISW identifies the main goal of the aggressor

ISW pointed out that this so-called Russian politician consistently and deliberately makes outrageous statements. However, the timing of these statements and the emphasis on the idea that Ukraine can only exist as a "fragment of a state in one region" aligns with earlier indicators that the Kremlin is reverting to its internal concept that Russia is at war to "liberate its historic lands."

Medvedev's comments followed an interview with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova to AFP on December 9, which likely marked an official rhetorical shift in the Kremlin's interpretation of the war.

In the interview, Zakharova reiterated the Kremlin's maximalist demands for Ukraine's complete political surrender and Kyiv's acceptance of Russia's military terms. She also introduced a vague precondition that Ukraine must withdraw its troops from "Russian territory" to resolve the war.

According to ISW, the propagandist was referring to the illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions that are not fully under Russian occupation. However, her statement may have intentionally been vague to afford Russia the freedom to define what it considers "Russian territories."

Analysts suggest that Medvedev's and Zakharova's comments bear many similarities to the Kremlin's longstanding information operation, suggesting that Ukraine could be divided into Russia-controlled "Malorossia" (most of the country) and a small part of western Ukraine controlled by Poland.

ISW highlighted that Russian propagandists intensified this information operation on the eve of the full-scale invasion, and its declaration has since decreased significantly. The resurgence of the Kremlin's idea of a "divided Ukraine" likely constitutes an organized attempt to mislead the international community into rejecting key components of Ukraine's sovereignty.

ISW notes that the Kremlin employed similar information operations in late 2021 and early 2022 to create conditions for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by its troops, while misleading the West and encouraging it to seek diplomatic de-escalation.

Currently, Russia persists in its maximalist goal of controlling all of Ukraine, utilizing these information operations to deter further military assistance to Kyiv and to buy time to rebuild its own defense industry and restore its armed forces.

Analysts are convinced that Medvedev's remarks and Zakharova's statement, within the context of the Kremlin's information operations before a full-scale invasion, cast serious doubt on the notion that Moscow would be satisfied with even the entire territory of the four occupied Ukrainian regions, let alone "accept" the current location of the front line.

"It is also noteworthy that the Kremlin is revising its explicit territorial goals upward, as US support for Ukraine seems to be wavering, and Western voices are advocating pressure on Ukraine to offer territorial concessions," ISW suggested.

As reported by OBOZ.UA, diplomat Oleksandr Levchenko said that the most unfavorable scenario cannot happen to Ukraine, in which Western aid is critically reduced, Russian troops advance and capture new territories, and the government is forced to capitulate. He noted that such an "apocalypse" is impossible for a number of objective reasons.

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