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Putin Strikes Back: The War in Ukraine Isn’t Over Yet

Ukraine Russia
Russian T-90A main battle tank.

Russia’s Withdrawal from Kyiv – what it means and what’s likely to come next – Over the weekend Russia surprised many analysts by entirely withdrawing from large sections of Ukrainian territory north and west of Kyiv. The move was widely hailed as a victory for Ukraine and Russia’s withdrawal as a “retreat.” While Kyiv’s heroic defenders deserve considerable praise for their impressive performance, the war is far from over and Russia’s redeployment of forces toward the Donbas front may ultimately expose Ukraine to greater danger.

Russia’s failure to quickly seize Kyiv can be attributed in the main to a deeply flawed strategy from the outset. One of the worst mistakes a military can make is to disperse its combat power. That is exactly what Russia did. What would have made strategic sense would have been for Russia to designate a primary theater objective and then mass its troops and firepower on attaining that goal. But in invading one of Europe’s largest countries, Moscow only allocated 200,000 troops – and then dispersed them in four separate axes of invasion.

Putin’s troops simultaneously attacked towards Kyiv, Kharkiv, the Donbas, and Kherson in the south. Though we don’t have exact numbers of troops Putin used in each axis, that would put roughly 50,000 troops towards each attack – a grossly insufficient number for any attack, especially for the capital city with its nearly 3 million residents. That dispersion of effort gave an enormous boost to the defenders.

Had Moscow designated at least one of the objectives as primary and allocated the majority of troops to that fight, they would have had a chance to overwhelm the defenders in the opening round. As it was, Putin’s strategy ensured that Ukrainian troops in each of the four axes had enough troops to blunt all four advances. Added to the strategic failures, however, was also tactical blunders that are hard to fathom.

There are so many battle studies from Russian armored warfare experiences in World War II that would have clearly taught the Kremlin’s forces how to effectively conduct tank warfare in the modern era. They could also have studied in detail American operations in Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Even the Armenia-Azerbaijan War of 2020 offered stark lessons in how to – and how not to – fight contemporary battles.  Russia seems to have ignored them all.

They did not coordinate their assaults even within individual battle groups, much less between their air force, army, and missile forces. Tanks were sent into areas without infantry support and poorly coordinated attacks – something Russia did to horrific results in the first Chechen War in 1994. Their communications gear is vastly inadequate and Russian logistics systems were poorly designed (and performed badly in any case).

With access to so much historical experience and many years with which to prepare detailed plans for attacking specific targets in Ukraine, it is difficult to understand how Russia could have made so many avoidable errors. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that Ukraine’s admirable performance thus far, coupled with Russia’s withdrawal from Kyiv, indicates that that President Zelensky’s troops are in position to win the war.

It now appears that Russian leaders are belatedly recognizing their many strategic and tactical mistakes and are making adjustments for the next phase of the war. Moscow now appears has prioritized the Donbas front as the number one priority. All other fights have been either abandoned or moved to secondary status. This fight, in fact, is shaping up as potentially decisive and could have significant ramifications for how the entire war will play out.

The armored units withdrawing from Kyiv are heading towards the Donbas. Moscow’s troops are on the verge of completely capturing Mariupol in the south and will soon turn their attention to the Donbas as well. Since the opening salvos of the war, Russian troops on the Donbas front have been slowly making progress against the frontline units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF). There are reportedly 40,000 or more Ukrainian troops in a pocket forming on the western side of the Donbas front. If Russia succeeds in encircling the UAF troops, they can be systematically cut off and either starved of supplies or destroyed over time.

The Russian armored troops that left Kyiv and environs are likely headed to attack the norther wing of the UAF defenses around Donbas and the Kremlin’s troops leaving the Mariupol fight will likely attack the southern wing of the UAF positions. Zelensky, meanwhile, recognizes the looming danger and has reportedly ordered reinforcements to drive east from Kyiv to join the UAF defending the Donbas. It will be a race and contest of wills to see which side can prevail.

As has been well chronicled, Russia has suffered egregious levels of casualties in both troops and equipment. Their striking power has been greatly diminished from that which they had at the start of the war. For the Russians to launch a new offensive against the north and south wings of the Donbas front, the troops coming from Kyiv and Mariupol will need at least a week to 10 days to rest, resupply, and conduct maintenance on its equipment. The entire Donbas strike group will need additional resupply for the major push. The Ukraine side, however, has challenges of its own.

Ironically, the lines of communication and resupply routes are easier for the Russians than the Ukrainians in their own country. Russia’s logistic supply lines run through friendly lines and have thus far been completely free of enemy interdiction. Ukraine has to send reinforcements and logistics across hundreds of kilometers to get to the front, and every part of the journey is subject to Russian air attack, drone strikes, and long-range rocket fire.

Many in the West are also unaware that Ukrainian combat losses are at least equivalent to Russian losses, but in some categories are worse, because Russia still has greater ability to fly fighters and bombers, and definitely has an advantage in heavy artillery. It is also unclear how many trained troops Ukraine has to reinforce their side of the Donbas front as compared to what Russia can bring to bear.

In all likelihood, the battle for Donbas will kick into a higher gear in the middle to latter part of this month. Putin appears to now recognize his entire operation hinges on winning at Donbas and cutting off those 40,000 Ukrainian troops. Zelensky is definitely aware of how precarious his position would be if he loses the Donbas. Both sides will be fighting with a sense of desperation. The devastation inflicted on the Ukrainian countryside may exceed that of Irpin and Mariupol.

While I have been outspoken in my contention that the best course for all involved would be to seek an immediate ceasefire and eventual negotiated settlement, all evidence points to the likelihood that Zelensky believes he has a chance to eventually wear down Russian troops. He may resist reaching an immediate agreement in the belief he can gain more territory in a settlement if he wins Donbas. Putin almost certainly is in no hurry to negotiate, in the belief he’ll be in the superior negotiating position if it is he who wins the Donbas battle.

It is uncertain at this point how the Donbas and eventually the war will play out, but one thing is very certain: more Ukrainian territory will be destroyed, more Ukrainian civilians, and many more troops on both sides of the line are going to die as a result. It is a tragedy of the highest order because it is a certainty that this war will end in a negotiated settlement of some sort. It is likely that the final terms won’t be much different than those that both sides might have reached to avoid a war prior to February, and likely won’t be much different regardless of who wins the next major battle. It is painful to watch as more and more people die for a war that almost certainly won’t solve anything, for either side.

A 1945 Contributing Editor, Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him Twitter: @DanielLDavis1.

Written By

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.



  1. Alex

    April 4, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    Only the first part of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine has been completed. Ukraine will be completely removed from the world maps in the form in which it was before 2014. Gifts from Russian tsars, Bolsheviks and communists will be completely taken away. This is a punishment for the fact that the Bandera Nazis killed Ukrainians in the Donbass and committed genocide against other Russian-speaking Ukrainians. The operation will end only when the last Banner Nazi is convicted and punished.

  2. yellowstoneuk

    April 4, 2022 at 3:57 pm

    Paret o was a Italian economist who found that 20% of causes created 80% of results.
    The northern Russian remnants seem to be the result of decimation by the Ukrainian forces. In everything from armour to manpower.
    The overall Russian invasion force suffered three Paret o points for military efficiency, 20%, then 4% and finally 0.8%.
    Since the northern force efficacy is virtually nil. The Ukrainian army can employ tactics that blunt either the southern force first or the centre first.
    In addition it appears likely that ukraine will bring into operation its anti ship weapons with devastating results on the Russian fleet situated 15 miles from Odessa. If any Russian marines are on those boats they are gone. This then open the opportunity to target Russian boats in crimea, potentially creating pressure on the southern wing of the invaders.

  3. yellowstoneuk

    April 4, 2022 at 4:11 pm

    Its strange but I read that russians think they are an older culture, when in fact the Prince of ukraine created the country of Russia centuries ago after heading North from beautiful ukraine. In effect ukraine is the parent of Russia.
    If a sibling harms its parent that is parricide.
    If a child(russia) denies it parenthood it throws away it’s heritage and humanity.

  4. Lee

    April 4, 2022 at 4:15 pm


  5. Alex

    April 4, 2022 at 5:07 pm

    Until 1918 there was not even the name Ukraine. There was the Outskirts – the outskirts of the Russian kingdom, later Little Russia. There is no such name as Ukraine in any annals and treatises of any travelers from different countries.
    Many are interested in knowing the real story, which is stored in ancient chronicles, and not in Bandera’s stupid Nazi brains:

    Historic capitals
    In the Old Russian language there was no term “capital”, its analogue was the terms “stol” (“oldest table”) and “capital city”. Several cities are mentioned in this capacity. A set of ideas about the “all-Russian” capital as a special concept developed in the 11th-13th centuries.

    Ladoga (862-864)
    Ladoga, which arose in the middle of the 8th century, is named the residence of Rurik in the Ipatiev list of The Tale of Bygone Years. According to this version, Rurik sat in Ladoga until 864, and only after that he founded Novgorod.

    Novgorod (864-882)
    According to other chronicles, Veliky Novgorod (modern Rurik’s settlement, 2 km from the current city center) immediately became the residence of Rurik.

    Outside the context of the legend about the calling of the Varangians, the Arab geographer Ibn Haukal, who calls it (as-Slaviya) the main among the three centers of the Rus, indicates the initial seniority of the Novgorod region, and in the message of the Laurentian Chronicle, which contains the words with which in 1206 the Vladimir prince Vsevolod the Big Nest sent his own son Konstantin to Novgorod to reign: “And Novgorod the Great is the eldership to have a reign in the whole of the Russian land.”

    Kyiv in those days was captured by the Khazar tribes and it was the Russian Prince of Novgorod that liberated Kyiv from the Khazar tribes.
    After the transfer of the capital to Kyiv in 882, Novgorod retained its role as the second most important center of the country. It was usually ruled by the eldest son of the Grand Duke of Kiev. The rivalry between the two capitals – northern and southern – became a characteristic feature of Russian history in subsequent historical eras.

    Kyiv (882-1243)
    In 882, Rurik’s successor, Prince Oleg the Prophet of Novgorod, captured Kyiv, which from that time became the capital of Russia. With the adoption of Christianity by Russia at the end of the 10th century, Kyiv became the residence of the Metropolitan of All Russia.

    The coincidence of the political and ecclesiastical center, combined with a long period of autocracy of the Kiev princes, led to the formation of a stable institution of the capital in Russia, which was not typical for most European countries of that time. In ancient Russian literature, the concept of the capital corresponded to the expressions “oldest table” and the expression “capital city” and the epithet “first throne” that have retained their meaning to this day. Kyiv received the name “Mothers of Russian cities”, which was a tracing-paper from the Greek word “metropolis” and likened the city to Constantinople. In the context of the expansion of the princely family, the management of Russia from the middle. In the 11th century, it acquired the form of a seignorate: the prerogatives of supreme power, together with the possession of the Kiev table, passed to the genealogically senior prince.

    Vladimir (1243-1389)
    Vladimir-on-Klyazma, founded in 1108 by Vladimir Monomakh, became the capital of North-Eastern Russia in 1157, when Prince Andrei Yurievich Bogolyubsky moved his residence here from Suzdal. Andrei strove to make Vladimir equal to Kiev and specially rebuilt according to the capital’s model. In the old historiographical tradition dating back to V.N. Tatishchev and N.M. Karamzin, Andrey’s unwillingness to take the Kyiv throne in 1169 was interpreted as the acquisition by Vladimir of the status of the capital on an all-Russian scale. However, this conclusion is not supported in the current literature. The recognition of seniority in the princely family, indeed, turned out to be divorced from the Kiev table, but it was attached to the personality of the prince, and not to his city, and by no means always belonged to the Vladimir princes.

    Moscow (1389-1712)
    Moscow was first mentioned in chronicles in 1147. Before the Mongol invasion, there was no princely table in the city. It was established for a short time in 1247-1248 and was liquidated after the death of the prince who occupied it. In 1263, the youngest son of Alexander Nevsky, Daniil Alexandrovich, received Moscow as inheritance. Without claiming the great reign of Vladimir, he was able to significantly expand the territory of his principality at the expense of neighboring Smolensk and Ryazan volosts. This allowed Daniil to attract a large number of service people to his service, who formed the basis of a powerful Moscow boyars. In modern historiography, this factor is considered as the most important in the process of the successful rise of Moscow[41].

    The sons of Daniil – Yuri Danilovich and Ivan I Kalita entered the struggle for the grand ducal label with the princes of Tver and during their stay on the Vladimir table significantly expanded the grand ducal possessions. In 1325, Metropolitan of All Russia Peter moved his residence from Vladimir to Moscow.

    St. Petersburg / Petrograd (1712-1918)
    In 1712, by the will of Peter I, the capital of Russia was moved to St. Petersburg, specially founded as a capital city.
    In 1728, the capital was actually moved back to Moscow in connection with the relocation of Peter II. After his death in 1730, St. Petersburg was confirmed the status of the capital. The imperial court and the government moved to the city at the same time in 1732.

    Moscow (since 1918)
    On March 12, 1918, by decision of the Soviet government, the capital of Russia was moved to Moscow. In 1922, Moscow, while remaining the capital of the RSFSR, became at the same time the capital of the Soviet Union, and later the capital of modern Russia.

    In addition, in different periods of time in Russia there were many temporary and actual capitals. But the Bandera Nazis cannot know about this – they are too stupid.
    Those who do not know their history have no present and no future.

  6. Alex

    April 4, 2022 at 5:12 pm

    Lee: Something white is dripping from your mouth. Is it your lie that doesn’t stay in your mouth, or is it your boyfriend who tried? 🙂

  7. Rich

    April 4, 2022 at 8:01 pm

    Alex, you are a despicable Russian troll and I wouldn’t be surprised if you actually work for the GRU or other agency. When will you Russians learn respect for human rights? Good lord, what makes you assume that the ‘the historical record’ has anything to do with the modern nations that exist? The “imagined community” (Anderson) which is a nation does not have historical roots- that is the lie nationalists tell to themselves in an attempt to historicize their nation. Look up the word historicize (in Russian it is создать историческый корный or something similar). But even if that egregious assumption is right, what makes you think historical unity is destiny? Are North and South Korea any less two nations today because at one time they were united? Or what about India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh? Either willfully or implicitly you seem to have bought into Gumilev’s nonsense about ethnogenesis (hint: a theory based on the impact of solar rays on people’s different position on the earth is likely to be shit). I suspect the former, because you are probably a Kremlin hireling or, worse, a Quisling who is bought cheaply. Either way, crawl back under the rock from which you came.

  8. Alex

    April 5, 2022 at 11:16 am

    Rich: I realized that you are an insignificant Bandera Nazi. But there is only one question – why should I be an agent of some country if I just know history well? And there is only one answer: I am distinguished by my good education, and you are envy and Bandera Nazism, they always went along with stupidity and lack of education. Can you say something about the capitals of Russia? No. Because you are dumb from birth.

  9. Rich

    April 5, 2022 at 11:27 am

    Alex: Well, first there are numerous mistakes in your English, suggesting that you are not a native speaker. Second, Russia regularly employs legions of trolls to muddy the waters of those who criticize it. Third, you believe you have a “good education” when you repeat Russian propaganda. Fourth, because you called me a “Bandera Nazi” which suggests at a minimum you are from Eastern Europe and, again, the Russian playbook is to call anyone who disagrees with them a “Nazi” (despite the great evidence of Nazism in Russia- including Vladislav Surkov’s sponsorship of skinhead gangs in the 2000s). Fifth, because your responses are just so vapid and evidence-free. Sixth, if I’m so “insignificant” why bother responding to me unless someone is paying you to do so? Troll, why don’t you change your name to Judas? You’ve clearly sold your soul, though probably for less than 30 pieces of silver.

  10. Alex

    April 5, 2022 at 1:19 pm

    Not for you, a descendant of those who organized the Volyn massacre, to speak to me about my soul. And if you just support them, then you are many times worse. My soul is pure in that I do not have such ancestors and I am not a Bandera Nazi.
    I do not hide the fact that I do not know English well. My languages ​​are Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, some German.
    Well said about Eastern Europe! Let me remind you: the territories where the Bandera Nazis arose never belonged to Eastern Europe. The people there are not mostly Eastern Slavs, moreover, they are not Slavs. Different languages, different faith, different mentality. I hate Nazis. They are not people or even animals. Animals kill for food. Nazis, especially Bandera Nazis – for fun. I do not understand – you do not agree with the history of Russia, which I wrote above? So tell me, what am I wrong about or education is enough just to call me a troll? Cheap, funny and illiterate.

  11. CK

    April 5, 2022 at 6:56 pm

    Don’t worry Alex, with all the losses the Russians are taking in Ukraine and the return of conscription, soon you’ll be off your lazy ass typing nonsense into a dozen different websites safely from some warehouse in Moscow or Novosibirsk or Omsk and right onto the frontlines soon enough!

    There you’ll be able to see all the glory and real story of your valiant Russian heroes, you can preach to them all day about the bandera Nazis you are so fond of, and see exactly the kind of war you are romanticising.

    Be sure to have your cell phone on you so when they find your clueless body in a Ukrainian ditch, at least they’ll be able to phone your mother to bury you.

  12. Alex

    April 7, 2022 at 8:22 pm

    Wish something else. Hiding yourself under your mother’s skirt – this is the cowardly Bandera Nazi. If not the Russians catch you first, then we will catch you when the west of Ukraine becomes Polish again.Wish something else. Hiding yourself under your mother’s skirt – this is the cowardly Bandera Nazi. If not the Russians catch you first, then we will catch you when the west of Ukraine becomes Polish again.

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