'a Russian defeat for the ages'
The Pentagon said Wednesday that Russian forces have completely withdrawn from near Kyiv and Chernihiv in northern Ukraine and are refitting in Belarus and Russia for probable eventual deployment to eastern Ukraine.
"The withdrawal of Russian troops from the north around Kyiv wasn't a relaxing stroll in the park for these guys," a senior Pentagon official told reporters Wednesday. "The Ukrainians were hitting them as they were moving away," taking "full advantage" of the retreat "and further depleting these units as they were leaving the country."
"We are not showing Russian forces in or around Kyiv or in or around Chernihiv," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin "has achieved zero of his strategic goals" and Ukraine "absolutely" can win this war.
"Kyiv was a Russian defeat for the ages," Robert Burns writes at The Associated Press. "Kyiv was the main prize" when Russia invaded, but Ukraine held it against some of Putin's most elite troops. Putin's eastward pivot may yet yield some victories, AP adds, but "his failure to seize Kyiv will be long remembered — for how it defied prewar expectations and exposed surprising weaknesses in a military thought to be one of the strongest in the world."
Frederick Kagan, a military historian at the Institute for the Study of War, called Russia's failure to take Kyiv "stunning." Moscow is trying to portray this as a "reorientation" of their "special military operation" in Ukraine, but "the reality is that Russia was defeated in the north," retired Australian Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan assessed. "It is the most significant Russian military defeat since Afghanistan."
Capturing Ukraine's capital "was going to be hard even if the Russian army had proven itself to be competent," Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and military history professor at Ohio State University, told AP. "It's proven itself to be wholly incapable of conducting modern armored warfare."
Russia infamously left behind horrific scenes of destruction and death in its retreat, and Ukraine says it has to clean up Russian mines and unexploded ordnance. And "Kyiv is still under threat," the senior Pentagon official said. "It's not like Kyiv is just somehow immune from further attack."
"Another advance in the north is highly unlikely," Ryan predicted. But Russia will probably try to surround and crush Ukraine's battle-hardened forces in the eastern Donbas region now, and that's a threat Ukraine has to take seriously.