Is Putin winning his war in Ukraine? At first glance, the question may seem absurd. The would-be Peter the Great has had a horrible year. As we approach the one-year anniversary of his war, the war does not appear to have been going well. Deaths/causalities may be 200,000. Generals have been killed, shuffled, and reassigned. Putin is scraping the bottom of the barrel to find the cannon fodder for his war. He has no qualms about having troops without uniforms, arms, or training. So what is the basis for thinking that Year 2 may be a winning war for him?
Before exulting in the failures on the Russian side, we should take stock of the shortcomings on the American side. They mainly are acts of misjudgment or wishful thinking.
Failure #1: The oligarchs will influence the decision of Putin. The seizure of oligarch yachts has made for colorful photo-ops but haven’t amounted to much more than that.
Failure #2: The Russian people will sway Putin’s decision. So far the people most opposed to Putin’s war have fled the country. In addition the people in the country have been bombarded with a constant barrage from the Russian Foxhub as well as the American Tucker Carlson. To illustrate the point, one only need think of the number of MAGAs who continue to believe the election was stolen. Here in a society with freedom of the press, nothing has been able to shake their conviction that the election was stolen. Even African Americans know that O.J. did it. Apparently MAGAs and Russians will never re-enter the real world.
Failure #3: The sanctions have been as effective against Russia in changing its behavior as they have been with Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. The Russian economy has not collapsed. In fact, it has been the Ukrainian economy which has deteriorated. The Russian economy has barely suffered. True some products and items may be in short supply but overall the economy is doing at least as well as Great Britain.
Failure #4: The world has not rallied around American leadership in the war against Putin. Europe has but China, India, Iran, and much of Africa supports Putin. That support has translated into arms sent to Russia as well as sanctioned goods. With the support of the former Soviet republics, there is an open pipeline into Russia that sustains Russia against American sanctions.
Failure #5: The American policy of ratcheting up its supply of military equipment to Ukraine means we are always responding to Putin and the facts on the ground. It puts Putin in the driver’s seat. We have not provided Ukraine with the weapons to win the war, only with the ability to prolong it. That policy means at some point, we may be too late to respond.
Failure #6: The Russian army has not collapsed. Despite all the anecdotal evidence from intercepted phone calls, texts, and messages between soldiers on the front lines and loved ones back home about how dire the situation is, there has been no collapse of the Russian army. Whatever there reason is for not abandoning their posts, the point is that they have not done so.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
So here we are practically at the one year anniversary of Putin’s war. His army now is bigger than ever, bigger than when the war started. True it may not be the best trained, armed, or dressed soldiers, but it still is a huge number of people. There is going to be a new offensive against Ukraine. Presumably the newest generals have learned from the failures of the previous ones. This time around, they may be more successful.
On the Ukrainian side, it is limited mainly to what it has. Advanced tanks and planes are months away from delivery and incorporation into the Ukrainian military forces. The new Russian offensive could start at any moment. If it were me, I would time it to coincide with the State of the Union address on February 7, but that’s just me.
There may come at time when Zelenskyy asks for American aid NOW! Not a year from now. Not six months from now. Not three months from now. But right now! The Ukrainians are human beings. They are not Hollywood Super Dupers. Even Rambo could not defeat an army of hundreds of thousands. And if the Ukrainians lose 100,000 men that is a big deal. Russia can lose a lot more 200,000’s than Ukraine can lose 100,000s. There are limits. Suppose under the new Russian offensive which could start any day now, the Ukrainians reach that limit and ask for American help right now?
What will Joe Biden do if the Ukrainians need American assistance right now?
I do not know the answer to that question. Presumably there are people in the U.S. bureaucracy with their “what if” scenarios who are scoping out the possibilities if the Ukrainians need help right now.
If that moment of truth comes, the stakes are quite high.
The United States has expended a great deal of military equipment and moral leadership on behalf of Ukraine. Can the United States afford to just walk away from that because we fear Putin?
If we do walk away, it not only means Russia has triumphed over America, it means that China, Iran, and MAGAs have too. Far from being an isolated event, Putin’s war against Ukraine has become a world war. Think of the fuss raised over the Chinese spy balloon. Now imagine what it would be if America fails in Ukraine.
In some ways, Putin’s war against Ukraine has become Biden’s Cuban Missile Crisis. Obviously the details are not the same, but the fundamental truth is … and maybe worse. This time the Russian leader may be willing to risk all to intimidate the American President into surrendering. On the other hand, the American President has the opportunity to inform Putin that he never will be remembered as Peter the Great if he is dead.