Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, a turning point in the brutal conflict seems to have emerged. On April 2, Russian troops departed Kyiv under heavy fire, ultimately retrenching in eastern portions of Ukraine. Their retreat marks the first time Ukraine has had control of its capital since the start of the invasion on February 24, 2022.
As the Russian troops departed Kyiv, the Ukrainian military advanced into Bucha. A few dozen people were found sheltered in their homes. Elena Shur, a Ukrainian accountant, first received notice of soldiers two days prior, when a civilian car passed waving the Ukrainian flag. Many of the citizens felt great emotion when they went out onto the streets again. “We saw people on the street, and soldiers,” Ms. Shur said. “I cried.”
Ukrainian troops have been able to recapture 30 towns surrounding Kyiv, land which bore the scars of more than a month of heavy fighting. This mass withdrawal suggests the weakening of Russian forces and, at least for now, a failure of Russia’s initial attempts to invade Kyiv and quell Ukrainian forces.
Moscow, on the other hand, has labeled the retreat as a tactical operation to regroup forces and to prepare for a larger push in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. Early analysis indicates that the forces are following through on this operation, and U.S. officials warn of the possibility of more brutal fighting in the following weeks.
“The next stage of this conflict may very well be protracted,” said White House security adviser Jake Sullivan. Sullivan also outlined the possibility of Russia “revising its war aims” in the face of significant opposition from Ukrainian forces.
The surprisingly intense Ukrainian opposition has depleted Russia of material, morale, and troops in amounts surpassing initial estimates. In a scramble, Russian troops have reportedly used up all of their prepared reinforcements located in Ukraine. American officials say around two-thirds of Kyiv-focused units have been forced to relocate into Russia and neighboring country Belarus.
This sudden turn of events gives Ukraine an opportunity to seize the upper hand in the conflict. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no sign of relinquishing his goal and remains adamant about “weaken[ing] Ukraine as much as possible,” Sullivan reported.
Sullivan emphasized that Putin’s final intent “is to cause military and economic damage and, frankly, to cause terror.” Russia, as Sullivan predicts, will continue missile attacks on cities such as Kyiv and Odesa as they redouble in the east.
Casualties on both sides have reached the thousands since the conflict started. Recent photos taken in Bucha, Ukraine show mangled corpses lying on the streets, some tied and bound. A New York Times study reveals dozens of civilians were murdered by Russian forces, some in despicable ways. One man was found decapitated; another was found shot in the head next to his son. Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to the Ukrainian president, posted on Twitter that “these people were not in the military. They had no weapons. They posed no threat.”
In the current state of the conflict, Ukraine has momentum over Russia, and combined with the horrors found in Bucha, the possibility for Ukraine to accept concessions is narrowing by the day. Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, believes the challenge for Putin is that “the greater the casualties, the harder it is to stomach a compromise solution.”
Despite this, neither side has been able to establish dominance over the other. Although Ukraine will be able to reposition in the Donbas region quicker, the country has neither the control of aerial warfare nor the military technology that was available to Russia during the initial invasion.
On the other hand, Russia is facing more of a social issue than military deficiency. Recent events show that consolidating manpower and firepower will not solve Russia’s faults. As Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert, stated, the only strategy Putin can employ “is to make a massive policy shift, by admitting to the Russian people that the Ukrainian offensive is not a ‘special operation,’ as he has claimed, but a full-fledged ‘war,’ allowing him to call up additional forces from across the country.”
Currently, the climate of the war puts the ball in Putin’s court. His upcoming decisions will be crucial turning points in the Russian-Ukraine conflict.
By Daniel Seong