When Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine a few months ago, he apparently never envisaged any hurdles tough enough to frustrate his mission of invading it within the time frame he had set.
Though a former intelligence officer with the widely dreaded former USSR’s KGB, President Putin hardly considered underlying challenges with potential to undermine his adventure and turn Ukraine into a quagmire for Russia. And even if he had, he must have grossly underestimated their impacts.
Putin also never considered how the Soviet ended up in a quagmire of Afghanistan, which it invaded in 1979 but was forced out disgraced 10 years later by largely US-supported Afghan resistance fighters.
In his Ukraine adventure, President Putin must have been carried away by Russia’s disproportionately stronger military power, which he must have thought was all he needed to crush the Ukrainian army and invade the country. He had probably imagined a scenario similar to his 1999 invasion of Chechnya, which he subjected to sustained, merciless and simultaneous ground and airstrikes of disproportionate proportion, resulting in the elimination of thousands of people and almost total destruction of the country, especially its capital Grozny. He had equally probably thought that Russia’s Euro-American rivals would react to his invasion of Ukraine in the same way they reacted to his invasion of Chechnya when they looked on while his forces were literally grinding Chechnya.
Though the disparity between Russia and Ukraine in terms of military power is so disproportionate that the former can literally wipe out the latter in no time, it takes an all-out war for that to happen, which is absolutely unlikely not only between them but between other countries for that matter; because countries in the modern-day world are so interdependent and bound by intricately interwoven interests that guide their respective policies, actions and inactions.
Therefore, in the unlikelihood of an all-out war between Russia and Ukraine more so between Russia and NATO, and even though Russia has maintained the upper hand, the likelihood of it achieving a decisive victory is increasingly becoming unrealizable.
Russian forces have been grappling with stiff resistance from the Ukrainian army, which has managed to frustrate Russian troops’ attempts to advance into major cities in the country, thanks to the technologically superior Euro-American weapons being supplied to them. Interestingly, though largely defensive, the weapons have proven not only effective but have also exposed the relative weakness of the Russian military’s offensive equipment.
Likewise, the apparently superior intelligence that the US and its European allies are sharing with Ukraine, thanks to which it has been able to eliminate some senior Russian military officers including generals, has exposed Russia’s relatively inferior counterintelligence capabilities.
Meanwhile, public resentment in Russia has been growing as the impacts of Euro-American economic sanctions worsen. Also, the number of Russian political, business and military elites being affected by targeted and potentially crippling sanctions grows. Besides, the general public, who had been assured by President Putin that the war won’t be long and that it would end with a decisive victory for Russia, are equally growing increasingly disappointed over the rate at which Russia is losing troops on the battlefield.
Obviously, President Putin, deep down, realises the potential implications of those underlying challenges on his administration. However, his characteristic ego may not allow him to consider a tactical and face-saving call-off of the invasion. After all, as he runs out of military options to achieve a decisive victory, other “cards” he had counted on to blackmail his Euro-American rivals into concessions are losing their relevance. For instance, European countries are somehow increasingly securing alternative sources of gas supply with potentially enough quantity to enable them to dispense with Russian gas altogether. They are growing more confident that they would be able to achieve that in the nearest future to the extent that Germany, which is the largest European economy that has heavily relied on Russian gas supply, is now pushing for the European Union’s outright ban of Russian gas. The Union is already working on addressing the concerns of some few member-states before a unanimous decision to that effect is taken.
Faced with that dilemma amid a growing international backlash against his Ukraine adventure, President Putin may resort to more desperate measures with a view to decisively ending the war with a Russian imposed political reality in Ukraine. He may, for instance, repeat the scorched earth approach he adopted to subdue Chechnya in 1999. The approach entails an outright and simultaneous deployment of a disproportionate number of air, ground and naval forces armed with a disproportionate amount of weapons and military equipment to overwhelm the Ukrainian military, massacre the population and cause massive and irreparable destruction of public infrastructure.
However, this approach isn’t feasible under the current circumstances. Besides, in the event of its occurrence, Ukraine’s Euro-American allies would certainly provide it with appropriate defensive weapons to frustrate the attempt.
Perhaps, the only feasible strategy for President Putin, which he is already reportedly pursuing, is to deprive Ukraine of its geographical attractiveness to NATO by cutting it off the coasts of the Black Sea, which NATO is hell-bent on expanding further into through Ukraine. Putin’s apparent determination to create as many enclaves of separatists within Ukraine as possible to struggle for recognition as sovereign states is reportedly aimed at achieving that strategy.