“The Russians really f—ed this up” in the Ukraine War, according to one US official. And that has Moscow scrambling to redeploy, refresh, and reconstitute units that were supposed to have taken Kyiv weeks ago.

That isn’t to say that Russian forces are abandoning their positions west of Kyiv.

ISW reported late Tuesday that “Russian forces continued fighting to hold their forwardmost positions on the eastern and western Kyiv outskirts even as badly damaged units withdrew to Russia from elsewhere on the Kyiv and Chernihiv axes.”

Those combat units — of the famed 40-mile-long convoy — have been in the fight for weeks and absolutely require the chance to recover from heavy losses in both men and material.

Propaganda continues unabated from both sides, the most egregious recent example coming from the Kremlin:

No plan, however, survives first contact with a metric buttload of Javelin missiles, as the old saying goes.

The IWS authors say that the Kremlin “has likely concluded that it cannot seize Kyiv,” and has therefore “decided to stop its previous practices of forcing units that have already taken devastating losses to continue hopeless offensive operations.”

That’s not to say Ukraine has won or that even Russia has lost. The first round might be ending, but the long grind continues elsewhere unabated.

Politico reports:

Biden administration officials cautioned that while they had seen a recent reduction in Russian attacks around Kyiv and Chernihiv, violence had continued unabated and even grown elsewhere, particularly in southern and eastern Ukraine.

Today, the strategic southern coastal city of Mariupol is mostly under Russian control after weeks of bitter fighting and heavy shelling. Putin has called for a “complete surrender” of Mariupol if residents want the shelling to stop.

As I wrote for you on Monday, Moscow announced last week that “Our forces and resources will focus on the primary objective: full liberation of Donbas.” That’s Ukraine’s energy-rich industrial area in the east, largely populated by ethnic Russians. Two Russian enclaves there declared independence from Kyiv in 2014 and have been deadly sore spots ever since.

Once Mariupol is fully under Russian control, Moscow could be able to isolate the bulk of the Ukraine Army, still engaged against Russian and separatist forces in the Donbas. This might be a good time for Kyiv to take Mao’s advice to heart: “Keep men, lose land: land can be taken again. Keep land, lose men: land and men are both lost.”

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For what it’s worth, that’s exactly the disastrous scenario I warned four weeks ago could happen.

(I’m not a military genius, but I can read a map.)

Still, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin did say that Russian forces would “fundamentally cut back” military activity near Kyiv in an effort “to increase trust” for the on-and-off peace talks.

There are two things going on here.

The first is the tacit admission of the reality on the ground around Kyiv. Russia failed to take Kyiv by surprise the first time around with fresh troops — including their best special forces. It seems highly unlikely that they’ll take Kyiv on the second try, without surprise, using less-prepared replacement units.

The second is that while Moscow is rotating troops away from Kyiv, they aren’t abandoning their positions around the city. Anything Ukraine wants back, they’ll have to fight for. So if I had to guess, Moscow’s Plan B for Kyiv is just more of the subtle Russian operational art of firing shells and artillery at stuff until even the rubble stops bouncing.

If Ukraine’s will finally breaks, maybe then there will be a second attempt at sacking the capital. But until we see how actions in the East play out, even that seems like a longshot.

The Battle for Kyiv probably is over, at least for now. But the Russian effort to pummel it into submission will likely continue.

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