Despite being massively outnumbered and subject to continuous long-range rocket and artillery bombardment, Ukrainian fighters actually managed to drive back Russian invaders and are now reclaiming territory they had previously held.
“Ukrainian soldiers have forced Russian invaders back from the east side of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Russians to the northwest of the city have begun digging defensive positions,” said a senior Pentagon official on Thursday.
How is this happening, given the extent of Russian long-range bombing and heavy mechanized forces advancing on the Russian capital? First, Russian forces are suffering morale problems and a lack of supplies, including food, water, and ammunition. In addition, Ukrainian forces have been seizing the initiative and attacking advancing Russian forces at key choke points to strike them when they are more vulnerable to incoming enemy fire. Moreover, the widely discussed Russian convoy outside of Kyiv has been stalled.
Pentagon officials say these kinds of Ukrainian attacks have actually pushed Russian forces back a considerable distance. “I think there's been no progress towards Kyiv on the ground. And in fact, to the north and northwest … it is effectively stalled as we see them take defensive positions now. And from the east, they've actually moved backwards. The Ukrainians have pushed them back to about 55 kilometers … east of Kyiv,” said a senior Pentagon official.
Perhaps Russian forces are vulnerable in urban and more densely populated areas. This may be why the Ukrainians have been able to push the Russians back and reclaim lost territory. In more urban areas, advancing Russian forces, vehicles, and convoys need to maneuver through narrow streets in close proximity to buildings. Hidden or fortified positions within buildings, which are less visible to Russian targeting sensors, are optimal locations for Ukrainian forces to stage counterattacks. The Ukrainians are armed with extremely effective anti-armor weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft shoulder-fired missiles.
Dismounted Russian infantry fighting house-to-house in suburban neighborhoods or urban streets would likely face a disadvantage as well, given that Ukrainian forces are likely to know the details of the area in ways they can use to their advantage. As Russian vehicle columns get attacked by deliberately dispersed groups of Ukrainian forces, individual Russian soldiers likely have little incentive to fight.
This may be playing out in suburban areas outside of Kyiv, as Russian forces have been struggling to encircle the city. Ukrainian forces seem to be holding strong with their plans to protect their capital city.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.