I suspect this is true but if it’s a lie being told as part of a western psy op in conjunction with yesterday’s chatter from U.S. officials then it’s a smart one. Putin was reportedly rattled and irate that American and British intelligence seemed to know the Kremlin’s battle plans in the weeks before the war, demanding that his underlings explain how the west had gained that sort of access to the Kremlin’s workings. His paranoia must be off the charts lately.
So now here’s Jeremy Fleming, head of the UK’s version of the NSA, pouring salt in the wound by giving Putin more reason to distrust his deputies. Russian troops are sabotaging their own equipment. They’re shooting down their own planes. They’re refusing to carry out orders.
Is any of it true? You and I don’t know, but maybe neither does Putin. Fleming’s speech is designed to goose his suspicions. Watch, then read on.
It’s impossible to believe Putin expected the sort of performance he’s gotten in Ukraine after spending billions of dollars over the past decade on “modernizing” his military. Someone lied to him about something — the capabilities of his own army, the capabilities of Ukraine, the sympathies of the Ukrainian people, the willingness of the west to uppercut him with sanctions. Any or all of the above.
Meanwhile, there’s big news on the battlefield today — if it’s confirmed:
Now from DOD: US seeing Russian forces “drawing down” from Chernobyl & north and northwest of Kyiv, a senior US defense official told reporters. US believes Russian forces have also likely “abandoned Hostomel airport” outside of Kyiv to the northwest, the official said. https://t.co/nhesVMTUv7
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) March 31, 2022
Hostomel airport is northwest of Kiev. It was one of Russia’s first targets in the war because of its strategic value. Seize and hold Hostomel and they’d have an “air bridge” to fly in Russian troops and quickly mount an assault on the capital, knocking over Zelensky’s government in short order. The first sign that the war might not go according to plan came when Ukrainian resistance at the airport proved fiercer than the Russians expected, delaying the takeover of the airport and the expected attack on Kiev.
If it’s true that Russia is now abandoning Hostomel, presumably it means they’ve given up on ever trying to take the capital. In other words, what Russian officials have spent the past few days saying — that they’re preparing to pivot from the north to the east in order to secure the Donbas — may have been true. But don’t call it a withdrawal. Call it … a half-withdrawal, half-redeployment:
So far, all signs point to Russia regrouping—not withdrawing, according to the Pentagon. Russia has pulled back 20 percent of its forces from Kyiv to resupply and refuel, but not return home, the Pentagon said Wednesday…
[I]n the meantime, Russia hasn’t made indications it is stopping its bombardment in Ukraine. Russia continues to hit targets in eastern Ukraine, local authorities said, and Russian forces continue to bombard the outskirts of Kyiv, according to Reuters…
Some analysts have suggested Putin might be interested in claiming a pullback from Kyiv and Chernihiv as a way to mask the losses they’ve been facing to domestic audiences, and instead make it seem like Russia is choosing to leave—rather than admit they’re having trouble conquering those cities. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Monday Russian forces are regrouping particularly because they can’t make any advances, according to a Reuters report.
If Russia’s advance in northern Ukraine had been more successful, troops leaving Kiev and Chernobyl could simply travel east through Ukrainian territory to the disputed territories. As it is, they may take the long way around by crossing from Ukraine into Belarus, then traveling east through Russian territory, then reentering Ukraine via the Donbas. Why do it that way? Because: They seem to be losing ground in the north to the Ukrainians and may no longer have a safe route to the east through Ukraine itself.
I agree with this, there is a very high likelihood that Russian forces will no longer be able to block the Ukrainians from accessing Chernihiv. Russian forces, from what it looks like at the moment, also risk encirclement to the NE of Brovary. https://t.co/WmRKmw6n2w
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) March 31, 2022
The Ukrainian city of Sumy came under attack at 3am on the first day of Russia's invasion. For most of the war, it has been practically besieged and regularly bombarded. Five weeks after the invasion began, Sumy is now reconnected by road to Poltava and the siege is lifted. pic.twitter.com/7LzH1umcbm
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) March 31, 2022
Professor of strategy Phillips O’Brien urged people last night to pay attention to what’s happening in Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border. The Russians have been trying to take that city for weeks, giving it the Mariupol treatment of incessant shelling to try to soften up resistance. Controlling Kharkiv would be strategically useful for Russia since it would connect a major northern population center to the Donbas in the east, allowing easy travel between the two. But not only have the Russians not managed to take the city, O’Brien sees indications that the Ukrainians have begun to push Russian troops there back towards the Russian border. It may even be that Ukrainian forces control the roads to the west of Kharkiv — which means trying to transit Ukraine from the north to the east would be dangerous for Russia’s army.
It means it will take far longer for the Russians to consolidate forces in the Donbas (if that is their priority) lead to more wastage, possible troop dissatisfaction, etc. The longer the Ukrainians consolidate the position around Kharkiv, the more problems the Russians will have
— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) March 31, 2022
The counter-offensive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine is advancing against the Russian invaders around Kharkiv. The rashists are being pushed back to the border from Derhachi and Rohan, and driven to the southeast of the city away from Chuhuiv. pic.twitter.com/Q1QKhMWUDQ
— Michael MacKay (@mhmck) March 30, 2022
If it’s true that the Russians are redeploying forces from around Chernihiv and Sumy, allowing Ukraine to retake that territory, then it’s even harder for their forces around Kiev to travel directly to the Donbas. They’ll have to exit Ukraine, go around, and re-enter in the east. And meanwhile Ukrainian forces will be able to move freely internally apart from the southern coastline.
Does Putin know any of this or are his deputies keeping it from him? He must know something about the state of the war if he okayed a plan that would give up on Kiev. That can’t have been easy for someone with his grandiose sense of prestige to digest.