The north is under pressure, particularly on the routes past Kharkiv, though the Russians are inching past the Ukrainian counterattacks.
But the west is open and Ukraine can still push troops and supplies towards the Donbas from Dnipro, so Putin needs troops to secure, and push up from, the south. He needed Mariupol finished, hence the sham congratulation of Shoigu for “taking control” of the city.
He tried to make it sound as a rare act of humanity. The reality is he cannot afford to lose any more troops.
Leonid Volkov, chief of staff to the jailed Russian opposition activist Alexey Navalny, said the film was a “revealing moment”.
“When Putin says something in public, it is almost always the result of the fact that the presidential administration took measurements of public opinion and came to the conclusion that now it is necessary to speak in order to earn political points.”
Public pronouncements by Putin are always only what they want to hear, Mr Volkov said, adding that the sudden order to halt the attack on Mariupol is proof there is no mass support for the war in Russian society.
The bizarre performance is notable for one other thing.
The appointment of General Aleksandr Dvornikov as the single commander in charge of all Russian forces was supposed to usher in an era of strategic clarity after the chaos of the opening weeks of this war.