Change of plans
"Ukrainian forces have retaken key terrain in the north of Ukraine, after denying Russia the ability to secure its objectives and forcing Russian forces to retreat from the areas around Chernihiv and north of Kyiv," Britain's Ministry of Defense said early Tuesday. "Low-level fighting is likely to continue in some parts of the newly recaptured regions" until "the remainder of Russian forces withdraw," and those forces "are likely to require significant re-equipping and refurbishment before being available to redeploy for operations in eastern Ukraine."
About two-thirds of the 20 Russian 800-strong fast-response units, known as battalion tactical groups, positioned around Kyiv have already turned back north to Belarus, a senior U.S. defense official concurred Monday, and "we continue to believe" those troops "are going to be refit, resupplied, perhaps maybe even reinforced with additional manpower, and then sent back into Ukraine to continue fighting elsewhere."
"Clearly the maximalist goals originally set out by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin have not been attained," the U.S. defense official added. He "made it very clear he was after regime change in Ukraine, and a key piece of achieving that regime change was taking the capital city. He has failed to do that, and they are now moving away on the ground."
Ukraine appears to have forced Russia to retreat from Kyiv, but "the next stage of this conflict may very well be protracted" and even uglier, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday. "We should be under no illusions that Russia will adjust its tactics, which have included and will likely continue to include wanton and brazen attacks on civilian targets" as well as missile strikes across Ukraine intended "to cause military and economic damage and, frankly, to cause terror."
"At this stage, the Russian force is tapped out," and "without national mobilization, there are very hard limits on what is available in terms of fighting power," Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert with the CNA think tank, tells The Washington Post. "Russian political leadership will have a very significant choice to make," he added. "They cannot sustain a war with Ukraine as a 'special operation," and trying "to prosecute a long war" with these "large objectives" is "just not sustainable," Kofman said. "They'll run out of troops."