With Ukrainian forces repelling Russian offensives against major cities for a 13th day, the Defence Secretary warned of further indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
Kremlin officials were last night said to have privately denounced the invasion as a ‘clusterf***’ – ‘mourning’ the death of the Russian economy and the loss of up to 12,000 troops.
A convoy advancing toward Kyiv from the north is said to have become stuck in mud as snow has thawed, while demoralised Russian troops are braced for battle in temperatures set to drop to minus 20C later this week.
The Russians have also suffered heavy losses on the ground and in the air with Ukrainian soldiers blowing up tanks and jets with the help of rockets given to them by Britain and Western allies.
Here we look at how the war has so far unfolded for Putin:
Vladimir Putin’s forces are desperate and ‘doubling down on brutality’ to try to break heroic resistance, Ben Wallace warned yesterday
Blown out of the skies
Every day brings footage of Russian fighter jets and helicopter gunships being blown out of the sky – as many as eight in 24 hours recently. Such losses seem to defy logic given the scale and apparent sophistication of Moscow’s forces.
Putin assumed he could achieve air supremacy on day one. A fortnight later, Ukraine’s S-300 ground-to-air missile system remains operational and effective.
Consequently, Russia’s aircraft are vulnerable to ground-to-air fire – not something they experienced while carpet-bombing cities in Syria. Experts also suggest Russia’s air force could be experiencing ammunition shortages after that campaign.
Russia’s reliance on artillery is problematic. Combining artillery and aircraft in the same battlespace requires cohesion, communication and most importantly practice. Yet Russia has not practised this. So we see aircraft in small numbers and only when there’s no ground fire. Is Putin perhaps holding back his best aircraft to attack the Baltic states?
Unlikely. Defeat in Ukraine would be terminal for Russia as a military superpower and terminal for Putin personally. He cannot afford to be distracted by ‘the next campaign’ – in particular when his army is also misfiring so badly, with its heavy losses of tanks, armoured vehicles, air defence systems and thousands of soldiers.
Russia’s reliance on artillery is problematic. Combining artillery and aircraft in the same battlespace requires cohesion, communication and most importantly practice
The doomed convoy
The convoy of 15,000 troops, tanks, missile batteries and armoured personnel carriers deployed from Belarus was supposed to encircle Kyiv and quickly pound its citizens into submission, forcing President Volodmyr Zelensky to surrender.
But it has never reached the capital and for several days has made no progress. This vast force is vulnerable to aerial attack. Yet besides strategic strikes on some sections, it has been left untouched. Why?
Few of the Russian assets pose an immediate threat – and Ukraine must be efficient with its use of pilots, aircraft and munitions. Also, due to spare parts shortages and resupply problems, the convoy is going nowhere. Better to bomb the bridges nearby further reducing the invading enemy’s mobility.
There’s a psychological ploy here too. As long as the column is there, it is Putin’s problem, a reminder of all that has gone wrong. Destruction on a major scale and the deaths of hundreds of soldiers could be painted as vindictive, providing propaganda for the Kremlin. It might also be counter-productive.
Ukrainians calculate that the more Russians that are stuck in the mud – with scant rations – the better. The hope is they will become discouraged and surrender.
Ukrainians calculate that the more Russians that are stuck in the mud – with scant rations – the better. The hope is they will become discouraged and surrender
Britain takes a hand
One SAS squadron has been deployed ‘to the region’. But it would be highly risky for any troops to enter Ukraine, given the UK Government’s insistence that it would not put ‘boots on the ground’.
Its task is to deliver lethal aid supplies to Ukrainian units and further training on these weapons systems. Western nations are also assisting with identifying and prioritising targets.
The Ministry of Defence has invested significantly in recent years in military communications and interception techniques and technologies. Judging by the quality of the intelligence published by the UK ahead of the invasion, this was money well spent.
The MoD effectively published Russia’s battle plan the day before the invasion started.
One SAS squadron has been deployed ‘to the region’. But it would be highly risky for any troops to enter Ukraine, given the UK Government’s insistence that it would not put ‘boots on the ground’
A peculiar aspect has been the unprecedented numbers of senior Russian officers being killed in action, not just middle and junior ranking officers, but generals.
Western officials say these commanders have been forced to abandon the safety of their headquarters and head to the ‘furthest line of friendly troops’ to ‘impose their personality on their men’.
This suggests desperation, a last resort when a battle is being lost.
Once a senior officer positions himself in a trench alongside his soldiers, as bullets whizz overhead, they can no longer command the battle – they have opted to sacrifice their situational awareness.
A peculiar aspect has been the unprecedented numbers of senior Russian officers being killed in action, not just middle and junior ranking officers, but generals
Putin the blunderer
All roads lead back to Putin’s planning assumptions, from which the strategy was derived.
If you assume Ukrainian grandmothers are going to decorate your tanks with garlands of flowers, your army doesn’t give the requisite consideration to basic requirements such as rations.
If you believe your army will roll into Kyiv on the first day of the military campaign and your enemy will lay down its weapons, you overlook the logistical challenges of moving large numbers of soldiers over vast distances. A fortnight ago, Putin was considered a master strategist.
His sabre-rattling – and the positioning of tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders – was surely convincing enough to persuade many Nato members that Ukrainian membership of the alliance was too risky.
All roads lead back to Putin’s planning assumptions, from which the strategy was derived
So having achieved this, why then invade? The task Putin has set his armed forces, of demilitarising Ukraine, appears beyond their capability. It is also beyond their power to overwhelm the Ukrainian people.
Regardless of how many blocks of flats he flattens, how many hospitals and schools he destroys, he will not pacify Ukraine. The country is too big, too populous, too advanced and too well supported by the West.
Ukraine is also led by a truly remarkable president, who appears to be growing in confidence by the day. Its people are too motivated.
Putin is bombing them into even more impassioned resistance, not into submission, with every rocket or artillery attack.
Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday that Russia was not getting its way despite its overwhelming forces. He added: ‘It is getting more desperate, which is why we see huge amounts of indiscriminate shelling, damage to civilian areas – which is outrageous – and the UK would call on Putin to stop that immediately.
‘We are seeing the Russians just double down on brutality and we are seeing reports about humanitarian corridors being shelled.
This will be Putin’s end, this country [Ukraine], and so it should be, because of not only their spirit and their moral component that they have on their side, the Ukrainians, but also because it will be an impossible task to occupy such a people and a country.
Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday that Russia was not getting its way despite its overwhelming forces
‘He has exhausted his army, he is responsible for thousands of Russian soldiers being killed, responsible for innocent people being killed, civilians being killed in Ukraine.
‘He is reducing his economy to zero because the international community has decided it is absolutely unacceptable what he does and so he is a spent force in the world. I don’t know whether he thinks that’s a clever thing to be, but that diminishes his own country in the world and he has to take responsibility.’
Washington’s director of national intelligence Avril Haines said: ‘We assess Moscow underestimated the strength of Ukraine’s resistance and the degree of internal military challenges we are observing, which include an ill-constructed plan, morale issues, and considerable logistical issues.
‘Our analysts assess that Putin is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and instead may escalate, essentially doubling down to achieve Ukrainian disarmament.’
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