We’ve actually heard about the Ukrainian counteroffensive around Kyiv for almost a week now. Volodymyr Zelensky and his military have pressed the argument that momentum had shifted on the battlefield, hoping to engage the West further in his national defense by demonstrating that Ukraine can not just resist the Russians but actually defeat them on the battlefield.
Those efforts do appear to be paying some dividends in the last 48 hours, however. NBC’s Richard Engel reports from the government’s war room in Kyiv, noting that Ukrainian forces appear to have started to attack the bulge in the Russian line north of Kyiv with success:
Ukraine making big gains around kyiv. I got a brief (with an unclassified map) from two top municipal officials pic.twitter.com/zASEbmISyJ
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) March 23, 2022
We’ll get back to the map in a moment. The Ukrainians claimed earlier today to have recaptured Makariv, a strategic position that demonstrates how far out the Russians remain from Kyiv:
Ukraine forces say they have retaken the town of Makariv, about 40 miles west of Kyiv, as part of a counteroffensive aimed at blocking Russia’s attempt to encircle the Ukrainian capital and shell the city center, seizing the initiative as Russia’s group offensive stalled.
Videos released by the Ukrainian military show the town looking nearly deserted, but control of the strategic suburb effectively thwarts the efforts of Russian troops to surround Kyiv from the northwest by blocking access to the main highway.
All of this, including Engel’s reports, rely on Ukrainian sources, of course. However, the Pentagon appears to be corroborating some of this as well from their own observations:
“The Ukrainians are bravely defending their country,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on CNN. “They are now in places and at times going on an offensive. They are going after Russians and pushing them out of places where the Russians have been in the past.”
“We have seen this now increase over the last few days,” he told CNN’s John Berman. “It’s a real testament to their ability to fight, to plan, to adapt and to, again, try to push Russian forces back out.”
CNN is also reporting that Russia abandoned Makariv after getting attacked, and notes that the video corroborates what Ukraine is claiming:
CNN’s map looks a bit different than the map behind Engel, but not a lot different. First off, it doesn’t show Ukraine’s positions around the bulge, but the retaking of Makariv certainly suggests that Ukraine is at least flanking the southernmost Russian forces. The Russian footprint extends to the south of that in a weirdly shaped salient, which doesn’t appear at all on the Ukrainian’s map, and which would suggest a danger of Ukrainian forces in Makariv getting surrounded themselves.
However, that would require Russians to retake the initiative. Can they? Read John’s post detailing the morale and status of forces, especially in the north, if you missed it earlier. It’s a continuation of reports about the stalled Russian offensive that keep painting a picture of a moribund army that appears unable to move in any direction. That may make them difficult to dislodge, but if the map Engel highlights is accurate, it makes it a lot easier to destroy them — especially if they can’t get resupplied, let alone relieved. Ukraine is setting up a potential offensive against the salient, likely hoping to pinch off a significant segment containing Russian artillery, and reducing it to annihilation. The Russians should be able to counter that strategy, but aren’t showing any reason to think they will.
CNN’s map of Russian positions to the east of Kyiv raises another point. Even if the thrust from Belarus through Chernobyl has stalled out, the other push to Kyiv could force Ukraine to redistribute its forces in a way that would protect Russian positions in the north. However, the eastern salient has also stalled, and on both maps with bulges that Ukrainian forces could attack.
All in all, this looks like a war being waged by political hacks and cronies, not generals with either strategic or tactical skill. That may well be the truth, or it may be that these plans were drawn up and ordered by a former KGB colonel. Allahpundit has more coming up on that soon, so stay tuned. In the meantime, all of the maps show Russian troops still significant distances from Kyiv in all directions, even as we enter the second month of the war. Ukraine couldn’t make up any better propaganda than that to inspire its citizens to common defense.