According to several media agencies, Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to exploit Moscow's current operation in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region to take land as a bargaining tool for future negotiations.
Following Russia's failure to seize Kyiv, the Kremlin has now changed its focus to taking all of the Donbas, an official told reporters in a briefing on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, according to Agence France Presse.
The three other main goals for the war's second phase, according to Politico, are to secure a land bridge to Crimea through the besieged city of Mariupol, take complete control of the Kherson region to secure freshwater supplies for Crimea, and capture additional territory that could be used as a buffer or bargaining chip in future negotiations.
Russia has been signalling a shift in the war goals it announced when it invaded Ukraine since late March. Putin has previously stated that he desired the "demilitarisation" of Ukraine, but not its occupation.
After weeks of fierce Ukrainian opposition, Russian General Sergei Rudskoi declared on March 25 that his army's major goal for the first month of the conflict was to gain control of the situation.
Military specialists have already predicted that Russia will focus on capturing Ukrainian territory and establishing a buffer zone there. General Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine's leading intelligence officer, stated last month that Putin is now attempting to create a scenario in Ukraine akin to the current gap between North and South Korea.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has dismissed the idea of handing over his country's eastern areas to end the conflict, telling CNN that there was no guarantee that Russia would not try to retake Kyiv after capturing the Donbas.
As for future negotiations, peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have largely stalled since evidence of mass killings was discovered in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha after Russian troops left the area. Before the massacre, Kyiv and Moscow had agreed to several diplomatic concessions that suggested they were reaching common ground, though diplomats from both sides downplayed hopes of any significant progress.
The other two objectives recently highlighted have been Russia's known goals for some time but now lie at the center of the war.
Establishing a land bridge to Crimea is thought to be a chief reason for Russia's assault on Mariupol, a city in Ukraine's south that has endured weeks of bombardment and heavy fighting. According To Uswhispers.com
If Mariupol, the largest Ukrainian-controlled city in the Donbas, falls, Russian soldiers on the southern and eastern fronts will be able to join forces for a broader onslaught elsewhere. The city's final defenders are running out of food and ammunition, and they've been surrounded in a steelworks factory that Russian forces are attempting to overrun.
"We expect the city to be completely destroyed, with many civilian casualties," a European diplomat told Politico. "I'm afraid it will be much worse than Bucha."
Meanwhile, regaining full control of Kherson, a Black Sea port city captured by Russia in early March, would allow Moscow to reopen the main canal that once supplied water to Crimea from Ukraine's Dnieper River. According to The Washington Post, Ukrainian soldiers have began retaking certain villages within Kherson in a series of counterattacks.
On April 1, Zelenskyy removed the rank of two generals from Ukraine's Security Service in the Kherson region, referring to them as commanders