As Russian troops retreat from their positions around Kyiv—a retreat forced by increasingly successful Ukrainian counterattacks that put a significant chunk of Russia’s committed forces in danger of encirclement–the world is in shock tonight as images of Russian war crimes continue to flow in from towns now liberated from Russian control. Evidence of the torture and execution of civilians is already leading to new demands that Russian leaders be investigated for war crimes and that sanctions against Russia be sharply escalated.
Russia’s withdrawal from Kyiv is an admission of defeat; full annexation of Ukraine, as Russian autocrat Putin seemingly envisioned, now seems vanishingly unlikely. Russia is instead moving forces to attempt to capture larger areas of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have engaged in years of war backed by Russia’s own military strength. The Putin kleptocracy’s goal of seizing as much of Ukraine as can be seized remains intact, but whether a more focused Russian attack in the east will be more successful than previous attempts remains to be seen.
The forces Putin arrayed around Kyiv proved to be incompetently trained, incompetently supplied, and incompetently led. They also can now count heavily damaged among their flaws; reconstituting those forces and shipping them to the east will pit them against resistance just as fierce. But Ukraine’s own armed forces have also been heavily damaged, and may not be able to sustain that resistance indefinitely.
Russia’s goals remain the same; inflict such heavy damage on Ukraine that the nation’s government feels it has no choice but to surrender land to Russia rather than allow the assaults on its civilian populations to continue. But now that Russia has demonstrated how it treats towns under its control, Ukraine’s population may be even more resolved to endure a longer war rather than abandon the citizens that would be put under Russian rule.
Some of today’s news: