Uneasy wait in Kyiv continues as Russian advance appears to have stalled

Russia’s offensive around Kyiv appears to have largely ground to a halt – despite the regular bombing of residential areas in the capital – as the invaders attempt to regroup and resupply in the north-west and east of 乌克兰.

一种 week ago, the influential Institute of the Study of War, a US thinktank tracking the fighting, had thought that an encirclement of the capital could be achieved within “24 to 96 hours” – but the events of recent days have prompted it to change its mind.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Russian invaders could only muster local attacks involving a few hundred troops, leading the expert monitors to conclude that Russian forces were “likely unable to complete the encirclement of Kyiv or resume mobile offensive operations in north-eastern Ukraine in the near future”.

Some of this has been down to a spirited resistance from Ukrainian forces, who have managed to prevent the Russian advance on both sides of the capital to the suburbs beyond the city, around Brovary to the east and most notably around Irpin to the north-west, a once leafy district that has been the centre of fighting for over a fortnight.

Russian forces appear to have been proven unable to cross the Irpin River, which runs along the western edge of the city – and the invaders remain 20km or more from the city centre, ruling out the cruel use of short-range artillery against the population that has proved so damaging in the eastern cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv.

That may offer some respite, but a critical period looms, if the war continues. The question is whether the Russian forces complete an encirclement of Kyiv and begin what could be a fearful siege of the city, which had a population of about 3 million people before the war began.

Mathieu Boulègue, a research fellow at Chatham House, said in an event organised by the thinktank on Tuesday that “the danger of bombing of city centres” underlined the importance of “preventing a battle of Kyiv” – because Russia has no other way of capturing its most important strategic objective.

Three weeks into the conflict, footage from Kyiv showed the effort to defend the city centre with military reservists, volunteer soldiers who are former journalists, lawyers and prosecutors, guarding defences built out of sandbags. Steel “hedgehogs” lie scattered in the roads, intended to stop Russian armour from advancing at speed and generate opportunities for ambush.

But as Boulègue pointed out, Russia has sought to avoid urban warfare so far in the conflict – where it is considered that an attacker needs numbers of five to one in its favour to have a chance of success. 反而, as Russian forces close in on a city, they have resorted to “ground shelling and indiscriminate bombardment” said Boulègue, to break the will of the residents to resist.

For both sides in the war, Kyiv is everything, and uncertainty also lingers over what would happen if Russia cannot close in on the city – or if its inhabitants fight vigorously in its defence, as expected. Boulègue worried that could lead to “increased frustration and risk-taking by the Kremlin”.

Western leaders have repeatedly voiced concern – denied by Russia – that Moscow could use chemical weapons in Ukraine. Even if those fears were not realised, as Russia has showed throughout the conflict, it can launch cruise missile strikes on city centre targets, as happened in Kharkiv, or air-to-ground strikes, as against the Yavoriv military base at the weekend.

目前, Russia’s forces are pegged back. But an uneasy wait in the capital goes on.