U.S. says Ukraine has pushed back Russian forces outside Kyiv
Russian forces northeast and east of Kyiv have been pushed back to about 55 kilometers (approximately 34 miles) outside the capital, while other troops 15 to 20 kilometers (about 10 miles) northwest of Kyiv appear to be "digging in" and establishing "defensive positions," a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Wednesday.
Why it matters: Russia's advance on Kyiv has been stalled for weeks, and there are now indications that Ukraine's counteroffensive is showing success. That could cause Russia to re-evaluate its strategy as the Kremlin becomes desperate for momentum to force Ukraine to offer concessions at the negotiating table.
Driving the news: The first delivery of material from the $800 million in U.S. military aid authorized by President Biden is expected to arrive in Ukraine in the next day or so, the U.S. official said.
- The initial priority for new shipments will be Stinger anti-air missiles, Javelin anti-tank missiles, body armor and other equipment that the U.S. knows Ukraine is using effectively.
- A NATO official told reporters Wednesday that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers are believed to have been killed in Ukraine, though the U.S. official cautioned they have "low confidence" in any estimates of Russian military deaths.
- Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday that the U.S. has formally assessed Russia's forces are committing war crimes in Ukraine.
State of play: With "no progress" toward Kyiv on the ground, the U.S. is seeing indications that the Russians are putting far more energy into their operation in the eastern Donbas region, particularly around Luhansk, the senior defense official said.
- The U.S. believes Russia is trying to "fix" Ukrainian forces in the east "so that they can't be used elsewhere," including in Kyiv.
- Ukraine continues to retain control over the cities of Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv, which have all come under heavy bombardment.
- The Russians have also been unable to capture the southern port city of Mykolaiv, and have "had to reposition around there because the Ukrainian resistance has been so stiff."
- The U.S. has seen increased Russian naval activity and shelling close to nearby Odesa, a major historic port on the Black Sea, but the operations there may be a "feint" to draw Ukrainian forces away from other targets.
The big picture: Russia has still yet to achieve air superiority over Ukraine, 28 days into the war.
What to watch: Biden will attend the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday, where the alliance is expected to agree on long-term force changes in eastern Europe.