The Russian campaign has been disrupted and derailed by stubborn Ukrainian resistance — and in the last few days by agile Ukrainian counterattacks on several fronts — just over a month after the first ballistic missiles slammed into Kyiv’s international airport.
Russian forces maintain a numerical advantage that is significant but not overwhelming. Their armored units have battled anti-tank weapons supplied by the West and Turkish-made drones. Ukrainian air defenses have outperformed expectations and are now backed up by tens of thousands of US-made Stinger missiles.
Poor logistical support, dubious tactics, and mounting evidence of low morale among Russian battalion tactical groups have allowed the Ukrainian military to fend off Russian advances in several areas — and begin to fight back.
The Russian military appears to be attempting to compensate for this by increasing the use of missile forces as well as indirect fire from artillery and multiple launch rocket systems. The Russians, for example, appear to be digging in rather than pushing forward to the north and west of Kyiv, shelling areas like Irpin and Makariv, where Ukrainian troops have established a tenuous hold.
Russian missile strikes have increased in the last two weeks, with prime targets being fuel dumps, military depots, and airfields, from Lviv in the west to Zhytomyr in central Ukraine and Mykolaiv in the south. The Ukrainians have been wary of going offensive, but National Security Adviser Oleksiy Danilov said on Friday: “We are going on the counterattack in some areas, and this counterattack is absolutely productive.”
These counter-offensives are small and focused, with fronts in the south, central Ukraine, and the northeast.
Surprisingly, Ukrainian forces have gained territory near the Russian border, particularly around Kharkiv and Sumy. Kharkiv, which is only 30 miles from the Russian border, has been under almost constant attack since the invasion began, but it is still in Ukrainian hands.
Some outlying areas appear to have been retaken by Ukrainian forces. The head of the Kharkiv regional administration, Oleh Syniehubov, claimed Saturday that “several settlements” east of the city had been liberated.
The Ukrainian 93rd Brigade posted photos of its soldiers in Trostyanets on Facebook, claiming that the Russians had fled, “leaving behind weapons, equipment, and ammunition.”
The last few days have seen Ukrainian gains in a largely rural area east of Kyiv, around the villages of Lukyanivka and Rudnytske, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) from the capital. If these gains are maintained, they could complicate an already long Russian supply chain and even cut off Russian forward units. Russian forces are still encircling Chernihiv, north of Kyiv, and have entered the nearby city of Slavutych this weekend. As a crowd of several hundred Ukrainian civilians protested, social media videos showed them in control of the city’s center, using stun grenades and bursts of automatic fire into the air.
The Russians also have the ability to shell Kyiv’s outskirts from the north.
Russian officials have claimed that encircling Ukrainian cities serves an ulterior goal: to pin down Ukrainian forces and prevent them from focusing on the separatist regions of Donbas.
According to the evidence, Russian forces are advancing on the outskirts of Donbas. However, the arduous siege of Mariupol has ensnared a significant portion of those forces. Their ability to project force elsewhere in the southeast will be harmed if they lose there.
Rudskoy’s comments, according to the Institute for the Study of War, “could indicate that Russia has scaled back its goals and is now content with controlling the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, but that reading is likely inaccurate.”
The Ukrainian military command is also skeptical, claiming that Russian units are reorganizing and consolidating to compensate for combat losses. All of which suggests a second and possibly still bloodier phase of the conflict is about to begin, as Russia tries to reinvigorate a faltering campaign on the ground while doubling down on its use of cruise and ballistic missiles.