Putin’s Ukrainian Fantasy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Eternal Flame and the Unknown Soldier's Grave in Alexander Garden on February 23, 2023. (Photo by Pavel Bednyakov / Sputnik / AFP/Getty Images.)

One year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin ignored the lessons of military history and labored under the false belief that a conquest of Ukraine would be quick and easy, a matter of taking an airport and rolling armored vehicles into Kyiv to accept its surrender. Today, his invasion of Ukraine has exposed the weakness of Russia’s military and the incompetence of its leadership, and the war grinds on in bloody fashion. The Ukrainians have shown they’ve learned from past mistakes, and they’ve remained united in defense of their country despite unrelenting attacks on civilians and infrastructure. This is a war Ukraine can win—provided the West maintains its support.

The signs were there from the beginning. The Russian army, acting as though it had no historical experience in winter warfare, struck during the Rasputitsa, a semiannual period of wet, above-freezing weather during which unpaved roads and the countryside turn into seas of mud. Rather than folding, the Ukrainian army and people fought back fiercely, denying Putin a rapid victory and devastating the largely unprepared Russian forces.

The Russian armed forces were thought to be among the most potent among the great powers, but Russian commanders could not execute combined arms operations (the synchronized use of infantry, armor, artillery, aviation, and other military branches to fight battles), could not keep their forces supplied, and failed to gain and maintain air superiority. They could not mass troops and equipment at the critical points on the battlefield, instead spreading their forces out along multiple avenues of approach under the assumption that the Ukrainian army would collapse under the weight of the assault.

It did not. Since the Russian seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the Ukrainian armed forces, under the tutelage of Western military advisers, have created a corps of commissioned and noncommissioned officers who have exhibited competence and flexibility in battle. The ability of the Ukrainians to skillfully defend the approaches to Kyiv as opposed to Russian forces bogged down in a miles-long column with limited room or unwillingness to maneuver is a case in point

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