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Lawrence Freedman writes:

As the Russo-Ukrainian War takes a darker turn it is important to emphasise this essential point. This is a war that Vladimir Putin cannot win, however long it lasts and however cruel his methods.  

From the start the Russian campaign has been hampered by political objectives that cannot be translated into meaningful military objectives. Putin has described a mythical Ukraine, a product of a fevered imagination stimulated by cockeyed historical musings. His Ukraine appears as a wayward sibling to be rescued from the ‘drug addicts and Nazis’ (his phrase) that have led it astray. It is not a fantasy that Ukrainians recognise. They see it as an excuse to turn their country into a passive colony and this they will not allow. No Russian-backed government would have legitimacy and Russia lacks the capacity for an indefinite occupation to keep such a government in place. 

This underlying strategic folly has been reinforced by the tactical ineptitude with which the campaign has been prosecuted. A quick and relatively painless victory, with Kyiv in Russian hands and President Zelensky nowhere to be seen, might have allowed Putin to impose a victor’s peace of some sort, whether in promises of neutrality and demilitarisation, new constitutional arrangements, or even territorial concessions.

Instead, the Russian generals chose to show how smart they were by relying on speed and surprise to take key cities, using only a fraction of the assembled force, and not even bothering to gain control of the skies. The arrogance of the plan was shown in the move against the capital. This involved flying in regular units to the outskirts of the capital to meet up with special forces and sundry saboteurs already in its precincts. This ended as an operational shamble. 

The failure of Plan A hampered the switch to Plan B. The Ukrainians were able to slow the movement of incoming troops by harassing them and forcing them to follow roundabout routes, including by blowing up bridges. Advancing Russian forces were split up creating problems of coordination and enabling individual convoys to be ambushed up by the defenders. Problems of logistics grew as supply convoys, including those carrying essential fuel, were unable to keep up with the forward units. On 28 February a massive convoy was reported – 40 miles long – and said to be travelling towards Kyiv. In practice it turned out to be a series of smaller convoys, jammed together because the road is blocked by vehicles that have broken down or run out of fuel. The Ukrainians do not need to go to great lengths to interdict this offensive force: it has stopped itself…

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