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Putin’s Wood Chipper

Photo: Sefa Karacan/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
May 17, 2022

Next week will mark three months since Russian forces invaded Ukraine—and stalled almost immediately. It didn’t take a military expert to understand that the Russian “special military operation,” as Vladimir Putin called it, was not going according to plan. Whole columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles sat burned out on Ukrainian roads. Ukrainian civilians, whom Putin expected to greet his soldiers as liberators, threw Molotov cocktails at Russian tanks and tried to stop them with their bare hands. The Ukrainian military fought so skillfully and bravely that Moscow soon had to abandon its hopes of taking Kyiv. And when Russia pulled back, regrouped, and launched what it called the second phase of its special military operation to “liberate” the Donbas, it was obvious to anyone with eyes that Russia, in fact, had suffered a major defeat. 

Now, this second phase has also run aground. Russia has completed its brutal conquest of Mariupol, the Ukrainian city that broke the collective Western heart, but that is the only major achievement that Russia can point to in the last month. It has gained some territory, but lost territory elsewhere, including around the major cities of Chernihiv and Kharkiv. In the case of Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces have pushed the Russians back to the border, from which Russian artillery can no longer reach the city, Ukraine’s second largest.