The think tank pointed out that, only in December, Putin framed the war by suggesting “Russia and European powers could partition Ukraine and leave it as ‘sovereign’ rump state within the borders of Lviv Oblast”.
And only in January, Putin claimed it would be “impossible” for Russia to give up Ukrainian land it did not occupy less than two years ago.
The ISW claimed the Kremlin is now “seizing on innocuous and unrelated topics” in an apparent effort to “normalise the partition narrative in Western discussions about Ukraine.”
It pointed out how on Monday, February 5, the deputy chair of the Russian security council Dmitry Medvedev, posted a message on his English-language X (formerly Twitter) account, rather than his Russian-language Telegram account.
The think tank said this suggested “his statement was intended for an international audience as opposed to a Russian domestic audience.”
The post claimed a European plan to build a railway line from Spain to Lviv City is “the first acknowledgement” the West may come to see Lviv City as “the new capital of Ukraine” within the borders of the region.
He claimed: “Business is a lot more prescient than politicians.”
The ISW alleged these comments were then picked up by right-wing nationalist politicians in central Europe.
Lviv is in the west of Ukraine and so has avoided much bloodshed witnessed in the south and the east of the beleaguered country.
But, as ISW noted, this railway plan is not actually related to the war at all.
The think tank wrote: “The plan, notably, has nothing to do with Ukrainian borders or an end state to the war in Ukraine and is an independent European infrastructure project.”
The specialists speculated that this is likely a bid to erode Western support for Ukraine, and normalise calls for Kyiv to give up its territory “as a legitimate way to end the war”.
But, Kyiv has made it clear it will not negotiate a peace deal unless all Russian troops leave its land and restore its borders pre-2013 – meaning the annexed peninsula of Crimea would be returned to Ukraine, too.
The ISW claimed that this is all part of a “Russian information operation that erroneously portrays Ukraine as an artificially constructed state”, and that Putin and other senior officials have “reignited the narrative framing the invasion of Ukraine as a historically justified imperial conquest”.
While Putin set out to conquer the whole of Ukraine in February 2022, the country’s resistance means he has pulled back his ambitions and now wants to consolidate his gains in the east.
Russia currently holds around 17% of Ukrainian land, and – according to ISW – is trying to “indoctrinate Ukrainian children into Russian culture and nationalism” in the occupied areas.