For months, Putin and his foreign minister Lavrov talked about the “denazification” of Ukraine as the top priority of the war. Putin’s press spokesman is now declaring that an overthrow of the Ukrainian government is no longer being sought. What’s behind it?
The “denazification” of Ukraine was long considered Russia’s top priority in the war. Foreign Minister Lavrov also repeatedly referred to the government as a “Nazi regime”. But now press spokesman Dmitiri Peskov has officially rowed back.
Last week, the Kremlin spokesman claimed that the ousting of the Zelenskyi government was not at all among the goals of Russia’s “military special operation” in Ukraine. Instead, further negotiations would have top priority. “But Kyiv does not want talks, so the military special operation continues,” Peskov said.
What is the motivation behind the Kremlin’s surprising statement and what does this apparent change of direction mean?
Russia expert Gerhard Mangott sees the statements made by the Kremlin spokesman primarily as an admission by Russia. “It is a first Russian sign that there are failures,” said the expert in an interview with FOCUS online. In any case, the Russian troops currently have no way of successfully overthrowing the government. In this way, “you are admitting something that is already the case in reality,” says Mangott.
However, this admission does not necessarily indicate a change of course by the Kremlin. The military experts from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) consider a radical change of direction to be unlikely. They explain that just four weeks ago Putin described Ukraine as a “Nazi state” that needed to be “denazified”. “Putin’s demands amount to regime change in Kyiv,” the ISW said.
Gwendolyn Sasse, academic director of the Center for East European and International Studies in Berlin, does not believe in a Russian change of course either. She couldn’t imagine Russia planning anything other than removing the Ukrainian government. In an interview with the RND, she describes Peskow’s statements as “rhetorical gimmicks without any substance”. The regular rocket attacks on the Ukrainian infrastructure in particular show that Russia wants to take over the entire country.
The failed capture of the capital Kyiv also led to Putin deliberately keeping his war goals vague. Despite this, Sasse sees no change in Russia’s rhetoric or warfare. Nevertheless, Peskow’s statements caused a stir in his own country. “A military blogger sarcastically said that Russia is waging a war without a clear objective,” the ISW said.
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The ISW also explains that another calculation is hidden behind Peskov’s words: “The Kremlin is only obscuring its goals so that Western countries can put pressure on Ukraine and demand peace talks”. It is quite possible that Russia is trying to prevent the West from further arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Gerhard Mangott also sees the Kremlin’s rhetoric as a continuation of the strategy of the last few weeks. To the outside world, Putin has long maintained the appearance that he is ready to negotiate. However, Mangott also points out that talks between Russia and Ukraine would be subject to conditions.
Putin is by no means prepared to hand over occupied areas in Ukraine without further ado. Ukraine, on the other hand, insists on the return of all territories occupied by Russia. But as it is, “from a Russian perspective, it is completely unimaginable to negotiate a ceasefire or an end to the war with Zelenskyy – and the same applies the other way around,” says expert Sasse.