Nato, Donbas and Regime Change in Kyiv: Changing Trajectory of Russia's Ukraine War

The top echelons in Russia have been dropping hints of late that the goals of the Ukraine war have changed over time. The latest comment suggesting a prolonged war has come from former president Dmitry Medvedev, who has now conceded that Kyiv's pledge not to become part of the North Atlantic treaty Organization (NATO) won't be enough to stop the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's top ally said on Friday that Russia will not halt the war even if Ukraine formally renounces its bid to join the Western military bloc. "Renouncing its participation in the North Atlantic alliance is now vital, but it is already insufficient in order to establish peace," Medvedev said.

Dmitry Medvedev
Dmitry Medvedev Reuters

Close Putin Confidant

Medvedev, who a close Putin confidant who held the president's post when Putin was constitutionally barred from holding that office due to term limits, has however, said that Russia was still willing to hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy under strict conditions. "This (talks) will depend on how events unfold. We were ready before to meet (Zelenskiy)," Medvedev said in an interview with French news channel.

Medvedev, who is the deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, Russia,said Moscow would continue the military campaign in Ukraine until its goals have been achieved.

Russia initially called the Ukraine war a 'special military operation' but the war has gone on for six months now even as the Russian goals have stretched beyond the initial goals.

Several rounds of talk between Russia and Ukraine since the start of the invasion have failed.

Changing Trajectory of War

At the beginning of the war huge Russian columns advanced into Kyiv, raising speculation that Moscow was intent on effecting a regime change in Ukraine. However, the campaign was rolled back after some months even as Russia focused on taking control of the eastern regions inhabited by Russian-speaking people.

Russia has now completely taken control of Luhansk and it is locked in a fierce battle to take Donetsk, where Moscow currently has the upperhand. When these campaigns are over Russia expects to have total control of the Donbas region. Moscow also took several strategically important cities in the East and South, such as Mariupol and Kherson.

The devastation in Donbas region Twitter

The initial phase of the war saw Russia taking control of the northern city of Kharkiv, but the focus on the northern region has been diluted since then. In recent weeks, Russia has extended missile strikes into Odessa in the south as well. A putative capture of Odessa will completely cut Ukraine off the Black Sea.

Depose Zelensky

The top leadership in Russia hinted last month that the bid to depose President Zelensky is not off the table. Russian Foreign Minister Sergie Lavrov has clearly said Moscow's ambitions in Ukraine are not limited to taking control of the largely Russian-speaking regions and securing geopolitical lifelines to Crime and other Russia-held territories.

Lavrov has said, perhaps for the first time, that Moscow wants a regime change in Kyiv. Calling the government of Volodymyr Zelensky an "unacceptable regime," Lavrov has strongly suggested that the Kremlin will want a new dispensation in Kyiv.

Lavrov said Zelensky and his Western friends are trying to make sure, through insidious propaganda, that Ukraine becomes the eternal enemy of Russia.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin Twitter

"We are determined to help the people of eastern Ukraine to liberate themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime," Lavrov said.

Putin, Lavrov and Medvedev have all dropped strong hints that Moscow would want to effect a regime change in Kyiv. While Putin says the goal is to 'denazify' Ukraine, Lavrov said the regime in Kyiv is 'absolutely unacceptable'.