Putin has lost his war in Ukraine and created Toxic Russia.

by Philip INGRAM MBE

No matter what the end state is on the ground in Ukraine in the coming weeks there is one simple fact that cannot be disputed, Putin has lost.  So, how can I be certain?

Putin’s objectives for his further invasion of Ukraine (remember he started this in 2014 with the forceable annexation of Crimea and then FSB led, with GRU support, activity to generate the breakaway Donbas Region), were to topple the Ukrainian Government, as it was becoming to EU and NATO focused, and replace it with a more Russian focused and sympathetic government that would fall into line as Lukashenko does in Belarus. His secondary objective was to open a land bridge between Crimea and Russia including the disputed Donbas region, setting the conditions for autonomous Donetsk and Luhansk.

To achieve his objectives, Putin will have wanted a rapid surgical operation into Kyiv to achieve his objective and a then slower mass movement of Russian troops into Ukraine to ensure compliance. He will have expected a rapid reinforcement of the Donbas region, welcomed capitulation by the local people and a rapid progression along Ukraine’s Southern coast.  In any final settlement with a new government, he would likely have wanted the disputed regions of Donetsk and Luhansk to be recognised as independent along with any additional captured territory linking them to Crimea.

Looking at the military operation around the invasion so far. Russia has failed to achieve air superiority as Ukrainian Airforce and Air Defences are still operating; gaining air superiority is a precursor to any lightening strike. Rapid special forces and elite military operations to capture key terrain around Kyiv in the first few days of the invasion were repulsed by the Ukrainian defenders. A ground convoy aimed at linking up with the captured key terrain coming from the North on Kyiv became fixed for many kilometres on roads, unable to manoeuvre through Ukrainian resistance and poor Russian logistic support.

Progress has been slow through poor equipment’s availability, poor logistic support, bad planning, poor command and control and massive resistance from the Ukrainian defenders.

To date Russia has failed to capture what would be assessed as any of its key objectives. In essence all of these suggest a complete failure in the planning, execution and therefore command and control of the first stage of the operation.  The Ukrainian Government remains active, President Zelenskyy is clearly in charge and is giving global leaders a masterclass in leadership. His approach has been key to uniting the Ukrainian people in a tighter national bond that they have ever had. That bond will be almost impossible to destroy.

Russia has been forced to move to its classic play book actions mirroring what happened in Grozny in 2000, Georgia in 2008 and more recently in support for Assad in Syria.  The surrounding of built-up areas and their gradual destruction through indirect fire from aircraft, rockets, missiles, and artillery – this is exactly what is happening in the cities of Kherson, Mariupol, Donbas and more. Given a complete loss of initiative moving into Kyiv and the way urban warfare soaks up experienced troops, the same fate will be the only option for Kyiv should Russian forces be able to encircle it. That still remains in doubt over 2 weeks into the invasion.

Strategically Putin has set the conditions for the EU to come together in a way no one could have predicted. Defence spending and focus in EU countries is going up rapidly and as a block its political and economic reach is likely to expand.  The same can be said for NATO, member countries traditionally reluctant to meet the 2% GDP spend on defence are doing so now with some haste and more expenditure to deliver real capability back into their militaries. Some countries who work closely with NATO and in particular Sweden and Finland but have never sought membership are now seeing a swing in public opinion supporting membership.

Putin has galvanised the EU and NATO and set the conditions for both to expand.

Global diplomacy, economics and politics are reined against Russia with sanctions biting deep, international companies and brands are removing any association with Russia to protect their reputation; historic votes in the UN General Assembly condemning Russia’s action have happened and the look of disbelief on world leaders faces, every time Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says anything is palpable.  China and India will be concerned at the speed the international community reacted with economic sanctions and be wary of ending up on the wrong side of international feelings.

Putin has galvanised the international community against Russia in a way never seen before. Putin has created Toxic Russia.

Inside Ukraine, pre-invasion, politics was confrontational, the people happily existed together, and the former actor President was tolerated.  However, since the invasion, the Ukrainian people have come together as a single entity with a spirit and belief that is electric. President Zelenskyy has galvanised a national spirit focused against Putin in a way no one would have expected, he continues to give a master call in leadership under adverse conditions to other global leaders.

Putin has galvanised the Uranian people against him in a way no one would have expected.

I suspect the Russian people are in a mixed emotional bag at the moment, some angry at the international community and Ukrainians because they believe the disinformation fed to them through state media; some are shocked and don’t know where to turn, some are beginning to hurt and see the real damage Putin has caused Russia on the global stage. It is too early for the impact of what is going on to have a real effect insider Russia and the thinking of the Russian people but more importantly those with access to power, Putin’s closest aids.

It is clear that the Russian military are beginning to hurt on the ground, and Putin’s initiative to start peace talks was a classic effort to create breathing space for elements of his war machine, even though their activities haven’t stopped. However, he is likely looking for his get out options. The most likely before the conflict started would have been rapid seizure of ground and a negotiated pull back to the disputed Donbas region, with Donetsk and Luhansk being recognised as truly independent and the land bridge between Crimea and Russia maintained.  However, it is too late for that. Even if President Zelensky agrees to discuss the possibility to stop the slaughter of civilians, even if there is a Minsk type agreement, Russia will never be allowed fully back onto the international stage and global brands will abandon Russia for fear of untold damage to their reputation. NATO would still be expanding, the EU and much of the globe galvanised, Defence capability focused against Russia would be growing.

There is no winning scenario for Putin, even if he could take the whole of Ukraine. The only way for Russia to come back is Putin’s demise. The only question is what cost till then?  The sad thing is that a long-drawn-out war, achieving nothing for Russia and delivering untold death and destruction to the people in Ukraine, and increasing Russian casualties, remains on course to be where this invasion is going.

Philip Ingram MBE is a former senior British Military Intelligence officer and NATO Planner. He is available for comment.