Sirens wail, missiles flare, and bombs blast across Ukraine. Russian troops advance, apparently at breakneck speeds, reminiscent of the invasion of Poland roughly 80 years ago. The government topples like a house of cards, with its leaders in cowardly self-exile. The people willingly embrace and celebrate this invasion, as if long-lost brothers were united once again. This was the exact image in Vladimir Putin’s mind – Russia’s modern-day equivalent of Joseph Stalin. Attempting to latch onto Russia’s long-lost glory, Putin ordered a “special military operation” in Ukraine on the 24th of February 2022, and against all odds, the Ukrainian Military – outnumbered almost 10 to 1, now firmly holds ground in Ukraine even a month later. Was this diabolical sequence of events leading up to this war of attrition a result of incompetent execution or a flawed hypothesis in the first place?
The build-up to the war started almost a year ago, when Russia began the process of constructing war-time infrastructure and reinforcing its presence across the Ukrainian Border on the Northern front (through Russian-Allied Belarus); Eastern Front (through its own border); and the Southern Front (through Crimea); and in Pro-Russian Rebel controlled areas: Luhansk and Donetsk. It denied all allegations of a potential invasion of Ukraine, yet the West stood remarkably united and decisive: it affirmed its belief in its intelligence – i.e. the invasion of Ukraine was imminent – and played its cards strategically to avoid a repeat of 1935 or 1938. Not surprisingly, Russia through its FSB attempted to construct a hasty casus belli for the invasion about a week or two prior to the invasion, with staged bombings and explosions allegedly targeting Pro-Russian assets in Luhansk and Donetsk and a farcical appropriation of breaches of Russian airspace by Ukrainian projectiles.
Not long after, in pursuance to prior Western Intelligence, Russia mounted an invasion of Ukraine, attempting a blitzkrieg with the capitulation of Ukraine expected within two weeks. However, the resistance proved to be too powerful, with Ukraine efficiently utilising its populace for mounting an insurgency. The Ukrainian Military rather correctly focused on the urban landscape rather than defending the almost meaningless countryside, where it could be obliterated by superior Russian equipment and technology. With a superior knowledge of the setting around them, the Ukrainian Forces were able to capitalise upon the appallingly unsecure Russian lines of communication, which at a point could be deciphered by even amateur radio enthusiasts. Western and NATO support further bolstered the Ukrainian forces. Their provision for intelligence, ammunition, anti-air and anti-tank defences, and drones aided their efforts.
Highly significant here is the role of morale. The Russian Forces at this point (or at least large swathes of it) oppose the invasion of Ukraine if reports are to be believed, and the Kremlin leadership is equally opposed to it. The invasion plan appears to be manufactured almost unilaterally by Vladimir Putin, as evinced by the blatantly obvious fallacies within it, primarily in the realm of logistics. Given this inherent opposition to the invasion, desertion and mutinies occurred, halting the advancement of an amphibious assault on Odessa. On the other end of the spectrum, the Ukrainian population stands as united as ever, to the point where the Ukrainian Forces were not able to accommodate all the volunteers for the war effort in the preliminary stages of the war. Contrary to Putin’s expectations, the Ukrainian Population did not wish to be ruled by Moscow, and even after war crimes – primarily the bombing of civilian targets – the morale in Ukraine remains unperturbed.
The archaic and borderline trite logistics of the Russian Military also hampered the war effort significantly. Given that the invasion was structured as a blitzkrieg attack, Russia had not set up capable supply lines had its initial endeavours failed. With its failed takeover of Kyiv’s airport, it was not in a position to establish an airbridge, upon which its annexation of Kyiv was premeditated. Russia still relies on Soviet-Era rail infrastructure – primarily due to its size and the weather-restricted road network - for the mobilisation of its military, and given its overtly public nature, Western intelligence had prior knowledge of the build-up of the Russian Military and the imminent invasion. Moreover, this reliance on rail meant that Russian Forces were under-equipped with the necessary auxiliary equipment for war logistics, including trucks. The current structure of the Russian Army, with one Material-Technical Support Brigade for each of its Combined Arms Armies, is woefully inadequate for supporting a war beyond its borders, with a capacity of only 1870 tons of cargo. Unlike most NATO militaries, which determine logistics from the ground-up, the Russian Military utilises a “push-based” system, where replenishments and reinforcements are determined top-down, by the leadership. This structure made adapting to the unexpectedly large Ukrainian Resistance challenging, leading to shortages and abandonment of equipment.
As it stands currently, Russia has had an almost unanimous failure across Russia, barring certain pockets of success in Mariupol. With mounting pressure from sanctions, as well as a motivated insurgency in Ukraine and domestic unrest, Russian success seems unlikely, a notion which the Kremlin leadership – barring Putin himself likely – has made peace with. The Russian Military brass appears to be scaling down their objectives and thus justify their failure. In the long-term, this war is likely to bring the toppling of Putin or something close to it, as he rapidly loses support from the Oligarchs. From India, we can only observe the chaos and hope for stability. (Updated as of March, 2022)