This war in Ukraine that Putin not only sought but planned, and for which he built up forces over a period of months, is not going the way he hoped.
Instead of bring glory and new territory to Mother Russia, the war is bringing ignominy and revealing the incompetence of the Russian military forces. It’s not that a smaller, less well-equipped Ukrainian army is holding off the Russian forces, it is how badly his forces are performing. Here are a few examples:
- Russia expected to achieve air superiority on day one by taking out Ukrainian airports, planes and anti-aircraft guns and missile launchers. After five days and nights of war, they still do not have air superiority and more Stingers missiles and other manpads are being shipped to the Ukrainians in the hundreds. Multiple videos have shown Russian planes and helicopters being shot down. Then there is the Ghost of Kyiv, a Ukranian pilot that reportedly shot down six enemy pilots.
- After capturing an airport near Kyiv, Russian forces not only lost several of the helicopters involved in the attack but were later rebuffed by a Ukrainian counter-attack and “fled into the woods.” So far, Russia has failed to capture the airport.
- The much-feared Chechen special forces tasked with capturing Ukrainian president Zelensky were blown to bits, losing 86 tanks in an ambush that killed their commander, Chechen General Magomed Tushaev.
- Russian tankers, some of whom reportedly traded their diesel fuel for drinking alcohol while station in Belarus, are running out of fuel on the highway. The lack of logistics is bogging down the Russian advance and creating stationary targets for Ukrainian defense forces and armed civilians.
- When missiles hit civilian apartment buildings, schools, and civilian oil depots, whether on purpose or not, it reflects negatively on the professionalism of Russian forces and generates international condemnation. When they attack Ukrainian nuclear storage facilities or stir up radioactive waste in Chernobyl, they generate even more outrage.
- Not only are there extensive protests around the world, surprisingly large anti-war protests have broken out inside Russia. On top of that, the Russian stock market lost about 50 percent of its value immediately following the invasion. This is not a popular war inside Russia, and it will be less so when thousands of coffins are returned home for funerals.
So far, the Ukrainians look like the little country that could, while the Russian Army looks like the big army that couldn’t. If you compare the speed of the Russian’s advance to the “shack and awe” with which the American military plowed through Saddam Hussein’s forces 30 years ago in Operation Desert Storm, the difference between our army and theirs is obvious.
Underestimating NATO and the West
While the performance of his army is less than Putin expected, the unified response from NATO countries is also surprised him. Even Germany has come around, refusing to certify the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline, sending weapons to Ukraine, and agreeing to disconnect prominent Russian banks from the SWIFT system, making it impossible for them to transfer U.S. dollars between banks.
The rapid sanctioning of multiple banks, individuals, and segments of the Russian economy must also come as an unwelcome surprise to Putin. While there was talk about sanctions, it was unclear that Europe would join forces with the U.S. since they have closer ties to Russia. Despite being largely dependent on Russian natural gas, Europe not only toed the sanction line, but one could argue that the UK led the way. (This will be a boon to U.S. producers of natural gas and companies capable of shipping liquefied natural gas (LNG) overseas.) While it will take some time for the full effects to be felt, sanctions are already leading to bank runs and long lines at ATMs as fearful Russians seek to withdraw some of their money.
While NATO may have looked like a paper tiger from Moscow’s perspective, the Russian invasion of Ukraine either offended the sensibilities of European leaders or scared the bejesus out of them. The result is they pulled together and acted in a surprisingly cohesive fashion. You could argue that this war has done more to strengthen NATO than any other single act since the Berlin Wall fell.
When you consider many of the missiles destroying Russian tanks and armored vehicles were supplied by NATO, Putin is getting an unwelcome look at how well his ground forces would do against NATO. If he ever seriously considered rolling right through the Ukraine and into Poland, Slovakia or Romania, or turning his attention to the Baltics, those considerations have likely gone right out the window. The performance of NATO systems and a determined enemy is dealing his forces a shocking blow.
And that is all before the ramping up of defense budgets and purchase of new weapons that will follow this Russian act of aggression. Germany already made a comitment to do so.
The End Game
Even if Russia eventually defeats Ukraine, it has already taken some serious damage to its reputation, its military, and its budget. Likewise, even if Russia gets what it wants in peace talks with Ukraine (a promise not to join NATO chief amongst them), it is getting plenty it doesn’t want, from painful economic sanctions to a loss of face on the global stage. This failure could even be a turning point for Putin himself, as his personal popularity will drop as a result of losing a war he planned and started.
On Sunday, Russia fell back to rattling its nuclear saber, pushing its nuclear force into a more heightened state of readiness, something many will see as akin to the blustering a bully does when it gets knocked down a notch. Issuing nuclear threats because it is not winning a conventional war will only draw more international condemnation and sanctions.
Russia will never be the pariah that North Korea and Iran have become, cut off from the world except for a few lone allies. It has too many natural resources, from gas to wheat, to be ignored. I also doubt this will lead to another collapse like they experienced during the fall of the Soviet Union, but it will knock them back a few notches and keep it further from regaining the super power status it seeks. It may cost Putin his job or even his life, if internal forces array against him. If he were to consider a nuclear launch, I hope someone in his inner circle would have the stones to shoot him.
The China Story
Throughout the build up to war, we have asked what kinds of signals will this send to China? The CCP is no doubt watching how the U.S. and NATO support Ukraine, knowing that the U.S. has pledged even greater support to Taiwan. The U.S. and its allies in the Pacific, including Australia, the UK and Japan, seem even more aligned against China than NATO was against Russia.
In China, they are noting the effectiveness of U.S. munitions, even though the Harpoon anti-ship missile has not been used in this conflict. Even more worrying to them must be the rallying of the world against Russia. China depends on selling goods globally; it cannot afford to have its markets turn against it if it attacks Taiwan. At least Russia can produce its own food and energy; China can do neither. The level of global sanctions imposed on Russia would likely send China down for the count.
Two other stories that don’t rise to the top in this conflict but are no doubt noted by China are the general ineffectiveness of conscripted soldiers and the grit and determination displayed by a people defending their homeland. Both could come into play in an invasion of Taiwan.
I understand China considers Taiwan a “breakaway republic” and wants it back, but with so many Russian military resources tied up in and around Ukraine, China might be better off invading Siberia. Not only would this give them access to valuable energy and mineral resources, but China owned Siberia before the Convention of Pekin in 1860.
Even if China does nothing, China and Xi have gained stature, if only because Putin and Russia have lost stature. If the new “axis of evil” includes China and Russia, Russia has lost any hope of being the senior partner. It has ceded that position to China as a result of this bungled incursion into Ukraine.
The Biggest Threat
Remember, a wounded animal is a dangerous animal, and Putin’s pride and ego have been severly wounded.
The biggest threat we now face is that he will do something crazy, like go beyond threats and use nuclear weapons. This article questions whether Putin is an isolated megalomaniac descending into madness. If he is, would he sink so far into madness as to order a nuclear first strike? A nuclear counter attack would mean the end of Russia and possibly the world.
I’d say nuclear war is the prepper’s worst nightmare, but it should be everyone’s worst nightmare.