It is premature to say that the tide is turning against Russian forces in Ukraine, but Ukrainian success at repulsing Moscow's advances has provided a fillip to the country's defence. Signs that Russian progress in the Donbas has stalled were followed by a claim by Ukraine yesterday that its forces in the northeast had pushed the Russians back from Kharkiv and reached the Russian border, 25km from the city.
After 80 days of war, the apparent shift in momentum in favour of Ukrainian forces is reflected in renewed confidence in Kyiv after a ramping up of heavy arms deliveries from the West as well as the heavy toll the fighting has taken on Russia's forces. British military intelligence claimed on Sunday that Russia had lost about a third of the ground combat force deployed in February, and that its offensive in the Donbas had fallen "significantly behind schedule".
Though the claim of Russian losses could not be verified, anything close to that would represent an astonishing result for an army that Moscow and western capitals assumed would be able to take Kyiv within days of the invasion. With these reversals for Russia has come a change in rhetoric from Ukraine and its allies.
The danger to Ukraine remains as real as it was three months ago
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has signalled that Kyiv is revising its war aims upward, making clear that Ukraine's ambition was to restore full territorial integrity – including areas of the Donbas that were controlled by Russian-backed forces before the invasion as well as Crimea, illegally seized by Russia in 2014. On Sunday, Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine could win the war.
Such statements are an indication of Russia's colossal military-strategic failures and Ukraine's impressive national defence. They also serve to bolster Ukrainian morale. But it would be a mistake to think that Russia is a spent force, or that the risk of further escalation has passed. The danger to Ukraine remains as real as it was three months ago, and there is every likelihood that Vladimir Putin will react to reversals on the battlefield not by retreating but by doubling down and intensifying his brutal onslaught.