Ukraine Update: Russia announces tactical retreats near Kyiv as Ukrainian counterattacks close in

Ukraine Update: Russia announces tactical retreats near Kyiv as Ukrainian counterattacks close in

Today’s most significant news is the announcement from Russia that they intend to pull back from some areas near Kyiv, allegedly as a magnanimous gesture. We can say with near certainty that Putin’s generals aren’t doing it out of goodwill. Still, the move does seem to answer one of our most pressing questions of the past few days: With continued Ukrainian successes against Russian positions northeast and northwest of Kyiv, how close might Ukrainians be to achieving the complete encirclement of major parts of the Russian invasion force?

It would be such an enormous military victory as to be unthinkable, and few analysts appear to consider it plausible even as Ukrainian victories in the northeast led to new maps that looked perilously close to it. However, the Russian announcement hints that no matter how we outside observers were interpreting the scenario, Russian generals are now concerned enough to order troops in the most vulnerable positions around Kyiv to pull back to more protected ground.

Another recent action signals that Russia finds its position more precarious than it is willing to admit: the recent destruction of a major bridge south of Chernihiv. It was first hypothesized to be a cruel move intended to block civilian evacuations; a more plausible interpretation is that Russia has abandoned using the route to resupply its Kyiv attacks and is now (literally) burning the bridges behind it to stall Ukrainian counterattacks.

Russia may be attempting to sell its shifting of forces as a move to “focus on the Donbas” or “better enable negotiations.” The practical truth of the matter is that Putin’s generals have spent a great many lives in their attempts to push closer to Kyiv, only to now find those positions too dangerous to keep holding. Russia won’t be pulling back very far, but it’s impossible to hide its troop movements from satellites and needs an excuse for why it’s pulling troops from spots now too threatened by Ukrainian territory recaptures to keep. The preferred public answer: We meant to do that!

Again, this doesn’t mean Russian troops will be going very far, and it certainly doesn’t mean Russia doesn’t intend to regroup and attempt to push more artillery back toward Kyiv in the coming weeks. But it means Ukraine has bloodied the attackers enough that Russia’s no longer just “pausing to resupply” along the Kyiv front but doesn’t feel it can sustain its current positions in the face of Ukrainian counterattacks. That is significant, especially since we can imagine how Vladimir Putin will respond to the generals bringing him such news.

Here’s some of today’s news:

The war has been taking an increasingly partisan turn here at home. The biggest reason is that Donald Trump keeps opening his mouth, shattering whatever show of pro-Ukrainian unity his Republican Party manages to craft between his outbursts. But a new demand by House Republicans that his Ukrainian extortion scheme be officially papered over, added to a confusing move by a major television network to rehabilitate one of the Trumpites who most worked to cover up the scheme, aren’t helping. The first step to defending Ukraine would be to reject plans to extort the nation for political benefit … and they still can’t do it.

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