Russia’s war in Ukraine did not achieve its goals. How long is the population willing to turn a blind eye to atrocities and pay the foreseeable high price?
Three months after the Russian attack on Ukraine began, President Vladimir Putin has maneuvered his country into a situation of military and economic weakness.
It’s not just failures on the battlefield. The situation is also turning to Moscow’s disadvantage from another perspective: the Black Sea is practically blocked for the fleet, the Baltic Sea will probably soon become an inland sea almost completely surrounded by NATO countries, which then border Russia to the far north will the power-conscious China still allow a sanctioned Russia, which is looking for alternatives, to be on an equal footing?
The British secret service estimated on Monday that Russia’s losses in Ukraine are already as high as those of the Soviets in Afghanistan – and assumes that this will soon influence public opinion in Russia as well.
Added to this are the consequences for companies and state revenues in Russia. The sale of fossil energy no longer guarantees stable income, even if oil and gas are traded at top prices on the world markets. The “brain drain” – the loss of bright minds from the technology sector – can also become a problem for Russia.
Putin must pay a high price for his “barbarism” in Ukraine, demanded US President Joe Biden. He cannot occupy Ukraine. “I think Putin is trying to erase Ukraine’s identity,” warned the US President, who provides billions for Ukraine’s defense. The Europeans are also sending modern and heavy weapons. For the western alliance, the whole war is like fresh cell treatment in terms of security policy.
Moscow, on the other hand, had to scale back its targets significantly and is stepping up attacks on Sievjerodenezk and Lysychansk. The conurbation around the former major cities is the only spot in the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine that is still held by troops loyal to Kiev. The pro-Russian separatists have now conquered 90 percent of the territory with the help of Moscow troops. By comparison, before the Russian attack on Ukraine, the separatists controlled less than a third of the territory. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday that the “liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic” was nearing completion.
Kremlin further away from war targets
And yet the Kremlin is further from its war goals than it was when the so-called “special military operation” began. The goals were not precisely defined in public, also in order to leave room for manoeuvre. But in addition to the conquest of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, there was also open flirting with the annexation of other, predominantly Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine – a belt from Kharkiv to Odessa – and the “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine was declared. These words could mean nothing other than the planned overthrow of the government in Kyiv.
Consequently, the Russian attack was aimed directly at the Ukrainian capital from the start. No one in Moscow had reckoned with the bitter resistance of the Ukrainians. Alexey Leonkov, a military expert at the Kremlin-affiliated journal Arsenal of the Fatherland, gave Kyiv two to three days before it surrendered on the day of the attack. Alexander Lukashenko, ruler in Belarus, who willingly gave his country to the Russian troops as a deployment area for the attack on Ukraine, spoke on Russian state television before the war of three to four days that such a dispute would last if the worst came to the worst.
From a Russian point of view, little was achieved. The Kremlin had to withdraw the troops in front of Kyiv. Only one regional capital was conquered in the south, Cherson. The conquest of the port city of Mariupol in the south-east of Ukraine, which has meanwhile been completely destroyed, has to serve as the greatest military success.
After the failure of the offensive off Kyiv, disillusionment has set in. Even in Moscow, despite all the expedient optimism that has been demonstrated to the outside world, there are first acknowledgments of inadequacies. Russia’s former Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, now Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council, spoke of “difficulties”, Chechnya’s ruler Ramzan Kadyrov even of “mistakes” that were made at the beginning of the operation.
After the Russian gains in territory in the first week, the front has largely frozen. Even focusing on the Donbass in eastern Ukraine has not brought a breakthrough. Where the Russians are ahead of the Ukrainians in terms of firepower, they in turn have a better overview and higher hit rate thanks to the drones and can thus usually stop attempts by infantry and tanks in good time. The urban development offers the defenders clear advantages.
For Ukrainians, stopping the Russian offensive is a strategic victory. Kyiv has been mobilizing new troops for months, while Moscow has hesitated, partly because mobilization contradicts its own reports of success and the position that this is a limited “special operation” and not a full-fledged war. However, it seems certain that Russia is not in a position to make any significant progress with the current deployment of forces. It remains to be seen whether the fresh Ukrainian troops, equipped with Western weapons, can force a turnaround.
The course of the fighting is being closely observed in the NATO countries. It is too early for detailed lessons, said the German army inspector, Lieutenant General Alfons Mais, the German Press Agency. The mistakes of the Russian tactical leadership are too dominant, the course of the war so far has been shaped to a large extent by Ukrainian strengths, which for security reasons are rightly disclosed very cautiously.
“I’m afraid that we don’t have a quick, clear end to this conflict in front of us, but that it will end in a tough struggle, perhaps in a frozen conflict,” said Mais. “Overall, the bottom line is that it takes a day to destroy trust, it takes years to build it back up. It is therefore important that we stick together in the alliance!»