Consensus analysis (for December 05-11, 2022)
Putin is forced to adjust the goals and terms of the "special military operation".
The public change of goals is evidenced by the statements of the Russian president and the shift in the emphasis of propaganda that has emerged in recent weeks. Both of them increasingly emphasize that the primary and main goal of the "SVO" was "the protection of the people of Donbas", and not the seizure of the entire territory of Ukraine, including Kyiv. In order to substantiate this thesis, the attention of Russian mass media to the "shelling of Donetsk" and other populated areas of the "LDNR" has increased sharply. Reducing the initial harassment allows, according to the Kremlin's logic, to level the negative trends in the public opinion of Russians due to the inability to advance at the front. This also allows propaganda and Putin himself to talk about the over-fulfilment of the plan - the "joining" of parts of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, in addition to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which were originally planned for this role.
The lack of deadlines for the end of the "special military operation" is important for the same reason. It allows the Kremlin not to be tied to a certain date and, in the course of the case, to pass off possible successes as a result of hostilities as planned, and failures that can be corrected in the uncertain future. This explains the fact that the Kremlin is still not ready to change the name of hostilities against Ukraine and call them a war. Whereas "SVO" is much easier to formally terminate by simply announcing its termination. Although in both cases, it will be difficult for Russian society to justify the cessation of hostilities in a scenario that is negative for the authorities of the Russian Federation. Especially that part of it that is imperially minded or will lose loved ones at that moment in the course of military operations.
Understanding this, the Russian authorities are trying to balance between two interpretations of events. On the one hand, it continues to call the hostilities against Ukraine a "special military operation." On the other hand, the operational failures of the autumn and the loss of strategic initiative force them to consider negative scenarios as well. For this reason, in the Russian semantic universe, hostilities are conducted not only and not so much against Ukraine, but against the whole of NATO. A loss to the entire military-political bloc is not equal to a loss to a state that the Russian Federation does not even recognize as such. As a result, the Kremlin is conducting a "special military operation", which, in the worst case scenario, could be labeled as a "war against NATO".