President Vladimir Putin’s popularity as the war in Ukraine drags on into the tenth week is at dizzying heights. When the war ends, sooner rather than later, and the information iron curtain on the Russian people is finally lifted, they will be horrified at what they have done to their neighbour as well as to themselves.
At that stage, his popularity would plummet as drastically as the value of the rouble. They will start calling it Putin’s War when they stare at a bleak future.
As the head of state looked at the situation in Europe and the West closing in on Russia’s borders from all sides, the Russian President’s ultimatum to Ukraine and the West by mobilising 150,000 troops with heavy weapons and artillery indicated that seeing the West was not willing to concede even an inch, he had no choice but to start the invasion.
Even at the eleventh hour had either Ukraine or the West given the assurance that joining NATO was off the table the invasion could have been halted.The West led him on, and Mr Putin fell into the trap of sure that the Russian Army would be able to sit in Kyiv within two weeks.
That was the estimate of military experts outside Russia as well. Mr Putin had not realised that the West as well as Ukraine had been preparing for such an eventuality for long.That the invasion faltered almost at the start came as a shock to the Russians right up to the Kremlin.
The reasons for the poor training and motivation of the Russians have been examined threadbare by experts around the world. An equally important factor was the tenacity of Ukrainian men and women, a quality of resistance that won the admiration of people around the world.Heads of state backed one side or the other depending on their standing with Russia. For people in general the sympathetic outpouring remained with the Ukrainian people.
No doubt Mr Putin and his generals would have examined threadbare by now the weaknesses of the Russian Army. The same weaknesses to a lesser extent had been noticed in the Georgian invasion many years earlier. Evidently, they were not rectified and might even have been for- gotten.
However, one of the organisational flaws remains unexamined. Russian forces have been equipped for a war with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Their formations were not modified for the type of fighting that resulted in Ukraine: close quarter battles, fighting from one city block to the next, that is infantry-heavy fighting.Even their infantry battalions were heavily dependent on tanks and heavy weapons. The infantry component was hardly 200 men, not even enough for guarding the long tank convoys stretched out on the main road for days. They became easy prey to tank hunting parties.
Ukraine is being slowly incinerated and crippled city by city more by frustration and rage at the top in Moscow than any tactical or strategic advantage. Russia is also hurting much more than the country’s President has let on. It is time for him to take stock and end the fighting. Unless he acts fast the West will not let him be.
Soon the tide will begin to turn with the massive supply of lethal weapons that the West is pumping into Ukraine. Not so much to stabilise Ukraine, but more to further materially degrade the Russian Army.At the end of 2021, Russia was one of the three big world powers. By mid-2022 that is no longer the case. It is time to take stock.The writer, a retired Major General of the Indian Army, is the author of Third Millennium Equipoise.