When Vladimir Putin announced the “liberation” of Mariupol, he was at pains to stress that the move was aimed at preserving “the life and health” of Russian soldiers.
The leader’s painfully staged conversation in the Kremlin with his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, was his first public intervention in the war at this tactical level and, to some observers, it reflected ordinary Russians’ concerns about the conflict.
“We must always think, but even more so in this case – about preserving the life and health of our soldiers and officers,” he told Shoigu, as if he had not risked the lives of these very men with his bloody invasion.
After all, Russian forces have been at it for weeks now with little to show for their efforts besides nine exhausted battalion tactical groups and massive civilian misery.
Putin knows he needs those troops and, just as with those that made it back from the mauling north of Kyiv, it will take weeks for them to be in any shape at all to contribute to the effort in the Donbas.