WAR IN UKRAINERussia's Failure Leads to the Next Phase of the Ukraine War: Interview

By Reid Standish

Published 2 April 2022

Russia’s failure to achieve its initial objectives in Ukraine – and achieve them quickly and cheaply — has led to a rethinking in Russia about the next phase of the war. “You can’t bomb urban areas into submission. You can’t even bomb entrenched soldiers into submission. Military history proves that you have to eventually close the distance and take what you want,” say a military expert. “[Russia] would like to get reinforcements and resupply the southeastern fight. If they really want that objective of connecting the separatist areas [to Crimea] and pushing back the Ukrainian military and [that] being what they’re able to negotiate as their win, that’s still a tough fight that [they will] have to close the distance for.”

Officials from Russia and Ukraine said they have agreed on a temporary cease-fire in the besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol to allow civilians to evacuate and humanitarian aid to enter.

The city has borne the brunt of Russia’s invasion, with much of Mariupol destroyed by artillery and rocket attacks. Previous attempts to help civilians through humanitarian corridors in the country have mostly failed but the March 31 announcement comes as the war continues to shift gears.

Ukrainian forces have begun retaking some Russian-controlled areas, just as Moscow said it would scale back operations around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say the repositioning of forces is part of Moscow’s effort to refocus toward the eastern Donbas region and an intention to refit and resupply troops.

As Russian forces regroup and readjust their goals in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on March 31 ordering 134,500 new conscripts into the army as part of the country’s annual spring draft. The class of conscripts could potentially provide new forces for Russia, although their involvement in the war is highly sensitive. Moscow had previously said only professional soldiers and officers had been sent to fight in Ukraine, but the Russian Defense Ministry later acknowledged that some conscripts had been deployed.

RFE/RL spoke with retired U.S. Army Major John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Madison Policy Forum and author of Connected Soldiers, to find out more about the current situation.

RFE/RL: Russia announced some sort of pullback of forces around Kyiv and previously said that the first phase of the war was over. Maps show they were already losing ground in those areas and there continues to be some fighting. So, how should we view this pullback? Is this truly voluntary? Is it meant to give Russia time to regroup or something else?
John Spencer:
 I think we should all view it for what it is — a failure of Russia to achieve what it wanted to do — which was from day one to quickly get into Kyiv and remove President [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy and install a new government to make Ukraine essentially part of the Russian Federation.