What Russia is hoping to achieve in Ukraine

As Russia presses toward Kyiv and the death toll continues to rise across Ukraine, we explore what Moscow's next move may be along with Ukraine's response. Michael Kofman, senior fellow for Russian studies at the Center for Naval Analyses, joins Nick Schifrin to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now Nick is back with more on what the Russian military is doing and Ukraine's response.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Judy, for that, we turn again to Michael Kofman, a senior fellow for Russian studies at the CNA, Center for Naval Analyses. It is a Navy-funded think tank.

    Michael Kofman, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Let me bring up that map that we started this evening with that U.S. officials say is really the beginning of the Russian operation, at least three axes, in from Belarus toward Kyiv, into the largest city in the east, Kharkiv, and in from the south up toward the middle of the country.

    From what you see there, what are Russia's objectives?

    Michael Kofman, Center for Naval Analyses: Nick, I'm afraid that this is fundamentally a worst-case scenario.

    It is a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. There's more than just three axes that are even on that map. And I think we can assume that the operation that Russia is launching probably has two objectives. The first is an encirclement of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, perhaps an attempt to impose regime change, which I think is quite likely, in terms of Russian ambitions, particularly what Vladimir Putin had stated during his speech which was similar to an official declaration of war.

    And the second is a large scale encirclement of Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country. And I see a fairly substantial advance of Russian ground forces, an airstrike campaign. And this is only an initial commitment for this. This is a fraction of the forces currently arrayed against Ukraine going in on the first day.

    Unfortunately, I think there's much more fighting to come.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, it is day one.

    And, certainly, senior U.S. officials I talk to say that they believe the goal, they fear the goal is regime change.

    President Putin said that he wanted to demilitarize Ukraine. What does that mean?

  • Michael Kofman:

    Well, I believe that this is probably a campaign with maximalist warnings. That is, he intends to substantially degrade or destroy the Ukrainian military and impose a surrender.

    And this is a campaign that's going to involve perhaps large parts of Ukraine, and I'm not sure it's even going to be limited to the regions east of the Dnieper River or even the southern coast.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes.

    No, we certainly see also some troops in Western Belarus who are just outside of Western Ukraine, although no evidence that they have entered Ukraine yet.

    I'm wondering if you could talk about Ukraine's resistance. I reported a few minutes ago about what Ukrainian officials are saying. But what have you seen in terms of Ukrainian resistance?

  • Michael Kofman:

    Well, there's heavy fighting in some areas, particularly outside of Kharkiv to the east.

    I think Ukrainian forces may have managed to retake the airport that the Russian airborne seized earlier today in the morning. And you see considerable resistance along the eastern, let's say, side of the current combat operations.

    But to the south, Russian forces have broken out from Crimea, and they're making rapid progress into Ukraine, across the river past to Kherson and Mykolaiv and Melitopol to the east. So there are areas where you see substantial Russian advances at this point.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, as you said, under this worst-case scenario, this is only day one. The vast majority of the troops that Russia has amassed at the border remain poised to fight.

    What are you looking for in the next 12, 24, 36 hours?

  • Michael Kofman:

    And there's nothing more confusing than war, unfortunately.

    And, right now, the picture is murky. There's always competing reports, conflicting early reports. I think, from my point of view, I will be looking to see the kind of fighting that takes place in and around Kyiv to the north, to what extent the Russian force made progress there, and what happens with the current Russian advances to the south and along Kharkiv to the east.

    There may be a Russian breakthrough, or the front line may stabilize outside of Sumy.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Michael Kofman, I know you will be watching. And we will be watching as well.

    Thank you very much.

  • Michael Kofman:

    Thanks for having me on your program.

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