Far from his light forces driving down the motorway into the center of Kyiv, taking control and imposing a puppet government, his troops are bogged down in a costly war of attrition.
As I said at the beginning, the Ukrainians would ultimately win if they managed not to lose, and this appears to be what they are at least partly on the road to achieving.
The Ukrainian armed forces have proven professional and tenacious in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds and have inflicted severe losses on the attackers. We have now reached a bit of a stale mate.
Most military commentators agree that Russia does not have sufficient combat power to overcome the defenders and capture Kyiv, or much Ukrainian territory, if that was indeed the strategic aim. In addition, it has outrun its logistic supply lines and has been forced to pause to replenish, and there are some doubts about its capacity in certain weapon systems to continue.
So, what happens now? If it is going to be able to claim any success at all, Russia will have to henceforth pursue more limited aims. Despite the damage and destruction wrought on Kyiv, it is unlikely to fall to the invader, not in the short to medium term at least.
And other cities under siege like Kharkiv and Sumy are proving to be similarly hard nuts to crack. As for Mariupol, well, the city has been more or less obliterated but so was Stalingrad in 1943 and yet it held out. The only difference here seems to be that this time the Russians are the attackers, not the defenders.
Ukraine-Russia: Ukraine is ‘on brink’ of surviving war, says president Volodymyr…
Putin, therefore, will have to decide what he wants to achieve with his now degraded and limited military resources. It seems likely that his new strategic aim will be to concentrate on linking annexed Crimea with the Russian separatist-held Donbas, with only embattled Mariupol frustrating that aim.
If that city falls, an advance west to capture the important port of Odesa might be his next aim if energy and resources allow, for that would essentially condemn Ukraine for being a landlocked country with no access to Black Sea trading routes.
Elsewhere, there are reports of Russian forces digging in to consolidate their limited gains and prepare for the longer haul. Long-range artillery and missile strikes, coupled with a reduced number of air sorties, will by and large replace attempts at the armored manoeuvre warfare which have proven so costly in men and materiel. It remains most unlikely that any attempt to assault and take the major cities will now be undertaken.
As for the Ukrainians, they just need to hold fast for the moment. They have done astonishingly well in such adverse circumstances. It seems that they may already have carried out some small counter attacks against their enemies, and if they have the resources then perhaps we will see larger attacks being mounted as they try to throw the Russians back.
Much depends, though, on their stock of weaponry continuing to be replenished by the West. What role Nato will play in the following weeks and months, supply of weapons aside, remains a point of feverish speculation.
The truth is that the US, UK, and the other allies have been caught on the hop despite many accurate warnings from intelligence agencies over the months prior to the invasion. It has been a wake-up call for all of them, as the current scramble to reinforce Nato’s military presence in Poland and the Baltic countries illustrates.
I believe the expressed fear that if Ukraine falls the others will be next is not just scaremongering.
My personal view is that Nato needs to stop being pushed around by Putin and start taking the initiative. It’s time to confront the bully in the playground, and confrontation is always better done sooner than later.
The West needs to tell Putin what he intends to do and not ask for his forbearance or permission. And it needs to draw a red line over the use of chemical or – Heaven forfend – nuclear weapons and be robust in saying that their deployment and use will lead to direct counter action.
On top of this, the decision not to transfer Poland’s 28 MiG-29 jet fighters to Ukraine needs to be reversed. Ukrainian pilots are familiar with this aircraft, already operate it, and need more of them, and it is a far quicker fix than offering other types of western aircraft which would need extended familiarization and training.
I am very much supportive of the suggestion that our Prime Minister should visit Kyiv and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and would argue that he should fly into Kyiv international in his liveried jet, having informed the world that it was his intention to do so. In fact, I would suggest that US President Joe Biden should do the same, hop on to Air Force One and fly to Ukraine direct.
Dangerous perhaps, but desperate times call for courageous leadership. Putin, however, should be left in no doubt what will happen if he tries to interfere.
The truth of the matter is that, for all his bluster and bluffing, the very last thing that Putin wants direct military confrontation with Nato, because if it does come to pass Russia will lose, and lose badly. High time his bluff from him was called, then, and this iniquitous war and all its suffering is brought to a speedy end. For, if not now, when?
Stuart Crawford, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Tank Regiment, is a defense and military commentator
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