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James Stavridis

Ukraine’s Wins Make Russian War More Dangerous

Kyiv should be proud of the astounding success of its recent offensive, but defeat may push Vladimir Putin to reach for deadlier tactics.

Taking it back.

Taking it back.

Photographer: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian forces have reconquered over 3,000 square kilometers of territory over the past week — more than all the territory Russia had added to its occupation in the six months since the start of the war. The Ukrainian flag is suddenly flying again over numerous towns and villages, and the offensives in both the northeast and the south are pushing the Russians back. Abandoned Russian tanks and trucks are littering the roads. Is this a pivotal moment in the war?  What is Vladimir Putin’s next move?

At a tactical level, the results on the battlefield are important but not definitive. While the Ukrainians have moved swiftly to bloody Russia’s nose, the Russians can simply fall back into defensive positions, consolidate their forces, and defend their gains in Donbas and the vital land bridge to Crimea that runs through Mariupol. As the Russians shift from offense to defense, their military position will get stronger — in military parlance, “defense is to offense as three is to one.”