Wars rarely go to plan, especially if you believe your own rhetoric

Wars rarely go to plan, especially if you believe your own rhetoric. By Lawrence Freedman.

Despite the superiority of Russian forces, they made less progress than might have been expected on the first day of the war when they had the advantages of tactical surprise and potentially overwhelming numbers. The initial assaults lacked the energy and drive that were widely expected. The Ukrainians demonstrated a spirited resistance and imposed casualties on the invaders….

Though the Russians may eventually prevail in battle, the first day of the war confirmed what has always seemed likely – that whatever the military victories to come this will be an extraordinary difficult war for Putin to win politically.

Coupled with an underestimation of enemy forces can come an overestimation of one’s own. .. The most important example of this from yesterday was the battle for Hostomel, an airport close to Kyiv, which the Russian tried to take with heliborne troops. If this airport had been taken quickly then the Russians could fly in troops who could then move quickly into Kyiv. But this was a gamble because without backup they were in an exposed position. The Ukrainians shot down several of the helicopters and then in a fierce battle overwhelmed the Russian forces. It is telling that after months of planning for this whole operation, in which every step has been carefully scripted, that the planners decided to attempt something so high risk on the first day. …

It would be unwise to conclude from yesterday’s engagements that Russian forces will struggle in the future. They will learn to treat their opponents with more respect and be more methodical in their moves.

A quick fait accompli would have helped Putin a lot. For example, the design and implementation of Western sanctions would have felt very different if it was against the backdrop of Russia apparently walking over Ukraine. It would have provided the opponents of anything too punitive with an argument that while what happened to Ukraine was a tragedy it was a situation about which little could be done, and so expensive gestures were pointless. …

As a number of analysts have noted as Russia runs out of stocks of precision-guided missiles and gets drawn into urban warfare, the fighting could get brutal. The Chechen capital Grozny and the Syrian city of Aleppo were battered in Russian led campaigns, with direct targeting of civilians. Yet the level of vocal opposition in Russia (and the lack of enthusiastic support) is striking. It was odd for Putin to insist that Ukraine should really be part of Russia and then expect people to tolerate fellow Slavs — often their relations — being bombed. …

An unexpected hero:

Russian forces needs to find and deal with President Zelensky. He has so far performed with dignity and bravery as an unexpected war leader.

President Zelensky: I need ammunition, not a ride

Putin will want him out of the way. Zelensky is insisting for the moment that he must stay in Kyiv and direct the war effort, even while reporting that Russian saboteurs are in the city. At some point a hard decision might have to be taken about either relocating to Western Ukraine or even establishing a government in exile. So long as he can continue to operate in Ukraine his leadership serves as a rebuke to Putin. …

Russian can’t occupy Ukraine, and it isn’t going to come willingly:

It is only a mind-set that fails to understand the wellsprings of Ukraine’s national identity that could believe that a compliant figure could be installed as Ukrainian president and expect to last for very long without the backing of an occupation force. Russia simply does not have the numbers and capacity to sustain such a force for any length of time. …

Ukraine shares a land border with NATO and equipment can pass through to Ukrainian regular forces so long as they are fighting – and then to an anti-Russian insurgency should this conflict move to that stage. This is why it is important not to focus solely on whether Russia achieves it military objectives. It is how it holds what it can seize against civilian resistance and insurgency. …

The man who made the decision:

The decision to embark on this war rests on the shoulders of one man. As we saw earlier this week Putin has become obsessed with Ukraine, and prone to outrageous theories which appear as pretexts for war but which may also reflect his views. So many lives have already been lost because of the peculiar circumstances and character of this solitary individual, fearful of Covid and a Ukraine of his imagination. …

Putin reminds us that that autocracy can lead to great errors, and while democracy by no means precludes us making our own mistakes, it at least allows us opportunities to move swiftly to new leaders and new policies when that happens. Would that this now happens to Russia.

Rape, when what was needed was seduction.