Ukraine war: What are Russia's plans for its 'second phase' - and why does it include Moldova?

·4-min read

Since Russia abandoned its efforts to capture Kyiv and left the north of the country, analysts and intelligence officials have been referring to the 'second phase' of the war in Ukraine.

This is largely the push south towards the port of Mariupol and east to the Donbas region.

But now the Kremlin has published its own four-point set of objectives for phase two of the invasion - or special military operation, as it calls it.

Control of south would give Russia access to Moldovan breakaway region; follow live updates

What are the four goals?

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, its four main objectives in the next phase are:

  1. Taking over Donbas

  2. Creating a land corridor from there to Crimea

  3. Blockading Ukrainian Black Sea ports

  4. Taking control of southern Ukraine and creating an exit to Transnistria

What is Transnistria?

Transnistria is a breakaway territory in Moldova, which borders Ukraine and comprises around 12% of Moldovan land.

Its self-declared independent status is not recognised by Moldova or the international community.

It is aligned with Russia and is home to a regiment of around 1,000 Russian soldiers.

Professor Michael Clarke, defence analyst and former director-general of the military think tank RUSI, described it as "like a mini Donbas of half a million breakaway Russians" - referring to the pro-Russian self-styled republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Transnistria has been in a long-term stand-off with the Moldovan government over its status and Professor Clarke said a Russian invasion could see tensions spill over.

"It puts enormous pressure on Moldova. It would raise the question of whether Moldova would actually collapse as a country and Russia would have invaded two countries instead of one," he said.

Earlier this month officials in Kyiv claimed an airbase in Transnistria was being mobilised - possibly to launch attacks on Ukraine.

Sky News correspondent Mark Stone, reporting from Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, added: "Moldova is constitutionally neutral, has no functioning army and does not have the protection of either EU or NATO membership. So the vulnerability is obvious."

Can Russia do it?

What Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to do and what he is capable of doing are two different things, Stone writes.

Phase one of this war was a comprehensive disaster for Russia and resulted in a humiliating retreat.

Phase two is being conducted by a regrouped and rearmed Russian army in the east. Under a new commander they may now be a much better fighting force.

Since the Russians left Kyiv and began focusing on its second phase, Western efforts to arm the Ukrainian military have stepped up.

US President Joe Biden has pledged two $800m packages in two weeks.

Read more:
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Refugee describes hell of Mariupol onslaught

But according to Professor Clarke, Ukraine is being offered armoured vehicles, tanks and artillery in the "tens and twenties", when it needs "two or three hundred to be a real game-changer".

However, the "logistics race" to get the right equipment to Ukraine is going on at the same time as the Russians race to build their land corridor.

"This whole offensive is 300 miles north to south, 300 miles east to west," Professor Clarke added.

"So far they've taken around 40 villages east of the Donetsk region, but they haven't taken anywhere big yet."

What is in its way?

Ukrainian officials claim there are around 1,000 troops and the same number of civilians holed up at the Azovstal iron and steel works in the southern port city of Mariupol.

Despite Russian claims the city has already fallen, this plant - one of the largest in Europe - is still stopping them taking complete control of the city - and being able to move their troops elsewhere.

Another southern port city, Odesa, is also yet to be captured.

And the city of Kramatorsk, in the northeast of Ukraine, is another key target along the Russian land corridor, which Kremlin forces have not yet seized.

Success for Ukraine in the Donbas is key, according to Stone.

But fighting around occupied port cities in the south is fierce too as Russia seeks to build that land bridge to Transnistria.

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Does it stop there?

Analysts have long suspected that this would be an obvious set of objectives, Stone said. Phase three would then involve another go at the capital Kyiv.

Western officials remain firmly of the view that Mr Putin's original objective of toppling the Ukrainian government, by force if necessary, is still the ultimate plan.

It is interesting and surprising that the Kremlin clearly feels emboldened enough now to publish its intentions openly. Gone is the 'we have no intention of invading Ukraine' nonsense from early February.

Now it is in black and white: take the far east, encircle the Black Sea cities, push west. The question is, could Moldova be next?

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