Russian President Vladimir Putin may be aiming to create a "Korean" scenario in Ukraine, creating a dividing line between the parts of the country occupied and unoccupied by Russian troops, Ukrainian Defense Ministry Intelligence Directorate head Brig.-Gen. Kyrylo Budanov said in a statement Sunday.
Western officials have also noted this apparent shift in Putin's tactics, reprioritizing the east rather than their offensive to take Kyiv.
"Russian forces appear to be concentrating their effort to attempt the encirclement of Ukrainian forces directly facing the separatist regions in the east of the country, advancing from the direction of Kharkiv in the North and Mariupol in the South," The UK Defense Ministry said in a late Sunday morning intelligence update.
On Friday, a defense official told US Defense Department News that Russia was reprioritizing its efforts away from a ground offensive to seize Kyiv and to instead secure holding in the separatist Donbas region.
"They are putting their priorities and their efforts in the east of Ukraine," the DOD official said.
"That's where still there remains a lot of heavy fighting and we think they are trying to not only secure some sort of more substantial gains there as a potential negotiating tactic at the table but also to cut off Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country."
This change in plan, Budanov explained, came after the failure of Russian troops to quickly take the capital of Kyiv in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
"It is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine. After all, he is definitely not able to swallow the whole state," Budanov said.
There is some reason to believe this may be the case, as there has been considerable speculation that the Russian invasion was motivated, in part, due to a desire to create a land corridor from mainland Russia to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia occupied in 2014.
Prior intelligence reports shared by Pravda at the beginning of the war stated that Russia's end goal was to divide Ukraine in a manner similar to Germany at the end of the Second World War. However, a Ukrainian military statement around the same time suggested it was to create a land corridor connecting not only the mainland to Crimea but also to Transnistria, the pro-Russia breakaway in Moldova.
Though the Russian invasion has not progressed as quickly as many would have expected due to severe logistical issues and unexpectedly strong resistance from Ukrainian troops, the invading force has still made considerable gains into eastern Ukraine, including the city of Kherson.
This is in addition to the two pro-Russian separatist-controlled breakaways in the Donbas region, the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), which Russia already recognizes as independent from Ukraine.
"The occupiers will try to unite the occupied territories into a single quasi-state entity, which will oppose an independent Ukraine," Budanov explained, stating that there are already efforts occurring by Russian forces to establish authority in occupied areas.
These claims also come as the LPR leadership expressed desires to formally join the Russian Federation, with LPR head Leonid Pasechnik vowing to hold a referendum on the subject in the near future, Russian state news agency TASS reported Sunday.
A similar referendum was used in 2014 to allow Crimea to join the Russian Federation, though this was never recognized by the international community.
It is unclear if this referendum will actually happen in the near future anyway, with State Duma lawmaker Leonid Kalashnikov telling TASS that this "is not the right moment" for the LPR's referendum.
"There is no need to be concerned about such issues for the time being when the fate is decided at the front," he said.
And indeed, the battlefield may be a place where Russia's plans are stymied further due to Ukrainian resistance in these areas.
Most notable among these key battlegrounds is Mariupol, an important port city in the Donetsk Oblast that has continued to hold out amid Russian sieging and bombardments.
Budanov further credited resistance and Ukrainian counterattacks for stymying this alleged Russian plan and stated that the "Ukrainian guerrilla safari season will soon begin."
"Then there will be only one relevant scenario left for the Russians – how to survive," he said.