Vladimir Putin switches focus to ‘easy wins’ in Ukraine as Russia’s next steps examined

Putin dissent grows as ex-military chief slams Russia plan

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Fresh attempts to evacuate civilians trapped in the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol are underway after Russia agreed to open a humanitarian corridor. Entire neighbourhoods have been flattened in the port city, with much of it reduced to rubble. Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped after weeks of relentless bombardment from Putin’s forces. In a phone call on Tuesday, he told French President Emmanuel Macron that shelling of Mariupol would continue until Ukrainian troops surrender, an event that would give Russia control of the Avov Sea coastline between Russia and Crimea.

The temporary ceasefire comes after Moscow claimed it would be scaling back its military operations near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and Chernihiv — though these claims have been treated with scepticism by the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Jonathan Jackson, a security teaching fellow in policing and security at Birmingham City University, argues that the sudden change of tact marks a strategic move to prioritise “easy wins”.

He told Express.co.uk: “I think that Putin has accepted something like a defeat in the battle for Kyiv, for now.

“In any military campaign, it is common to switch strategic focus to exploit enemy weaknesses and build upon military successes.

“The Russians have been more victorious in the south because of conditions which have proven more favourable.”

Mr Jackson noted the 1941 Battle of Moscow, explaining that Adolf Hitler’s failure to conquer the Russian capital played an enormous role in the Axis’ unsuccessful attempts to defeat the USSR.

He continued: “This has been combined with weaker military units deployed in the region, issues of logistics, combined with a poor rail network.

“The Russian army relies upon rail to move its forces around, and this network is much better maintained in the south than in the north.

“It is more likely that Putin has decided to focus on easy wins and consolidate his conquered areas to position himself more favourably in future rounds of diplomacy.”

While Russia says it will scale-back its efforts in Ukraine, the UK’s Ministry of Defence on Thursday confirmed that there was still fighting in the two cities.

However, it added that a small number of Russian units have withdrawn.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has also said that Putin’s advisors may not be informing him on the true extent of failures of the Russian army over the last few weeks

He told reporters on Wednesday: “If Mr Putin is being kept in the dark by his Ministry of Defence, when he actually begins to realise how badly his military is doing in Ukraine, you don’t know what kind of reaction that’s going to cause him.

“It could affect the way they’re negotiating, certainly, and lead to worse outcomes for Ukraine.”

Jeremy Fleming, the head of the UK’s cyber-intelligence agency GCHQ, said on Thursday morning that Russia had “massively misjudged” the might of the Ukrainian resistance.

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In a speech to the Australian National University in Canberra, he said: “We’ve seen Russian soldiers — short of weapons and morale — refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.

“And even though Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgements must be crystal clear to the regime.”

Despite high hopes, peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul have so far failed to produce any meaningful breakthrough.

Mr Jackson said Putin could be using the “guise of negotiations to take stock and decide on the next move”.

He explained: “The Russian armed forces have lived up to their reputation as being sheep in wolves clothing.

“Endemic corruption, poor leadership, a failure to reform, and insecure communication networks have all contributed to their inability to take and hold key positions.

“These failures of command and control will be impossible to solve overnight, and it is likely that hard truths will now be all the rage behind the doors of the Kremlin.”

Putin, Mr Jackson said, will need to listen to previously sidelined advisors to ensure the Russian army can make “the final push”.

He added that Putin is deploying “classic KGB tactics” to keep Ukraine guessing.

He said: “The fact that ceasefires are arranged and then breached, ensures that Ukrainian officials and civilian populations are never able to psychologically relax and take stock themselves.

“This state of perpetual fear is, of course, designed to wear down their ability to wage war.”

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