Can Putin win? – Politico

“I am evil and scary with claws and teeth,” Vladimir Putin warned David Cameron when the then-British prime minister pressed him about Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria and discussed how far Russia was. ready to go

According to Cameron’s top foreign policy adviser John Casson – quoted in a BBC documentary – Putin explained that to succeed in Syria one had to use brutal methods, as the US did at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. “I’m an ex-KGB guy,” he explained.

The comment was meant, apparently, half in jest but, like the Russian leader, the threat was clear.

And of course, Putin has proven that he is willing to deploy fear as a weapon in his efforts to subdue a rebellious Ukraine. His troops targeted civilians and resorted to torture and rape. But victory eluded him.

Over the next few weeks, he looks set to try to reverse his military failures with a late-winter offensive: most likely by being more ferocious, and fighting tooth and nail, to save Russia — and himself — from further humiliation.

But can a former KGB person be successful? Can Russia still win Putin’s preferred war against Ukraine in the face of heroic and united Ukrainian resistance?

Error catalog

From the beginning, the war was characterized by misunderstandings and miscalculations. Putin and his generals underestimated Ukraine’s resistance, overestimated the capabilities of their own forces, and failed to anticipate the level of military and economic aid Ukraine would receive from the United States and European countries.

Kyiv did not fall within days as planned by the Kremlin – and as Putin’s forces were pushed back over the summer and autumn, Ukraine regained more than half of the territory the Russians had captured in the first few weeks of the offensive by November. . Russia has now been forced into a costly and protracted conventional war, which has sparked rare dissent within the country’s politico-military establishment and exposed Kremlin infighting.

Russian forces recorded their only victory in months in January when Ukrainians withdrew from the city of Soledar in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. And the signs are that the Russians are on the verge of another victory with Bakhmut, only six miles south-west of Soledar, which is likely to fall into their hands very soon.

But none of these blood-soaked victories were more than symbolic successes, despite high casualties on both sides. Neither victory is strategically significant – and some Western officials have said privately that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky may have been advised to withdraw from Soledar and now from Bakhmut, just as the Russians retreated from their militarily hopeless positions in November. Kherson.

Putin will be banking on his forces, replenished with reservists and personnel, to fend off a major new offensive next week for a real turnaround in Russia’s military fortunes. Ukrainian officials expect the offensive to begin no sooner than spring. Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov warned at a press conference in the past few days that Russia could have up to 500,000 troops in reserve ready for attacks on occupied Ukraine and the border. He said it could begin in earnest on February 24 this month, the first anniversary of the war.

Other Ukrainian officials think the offensive, when it comes, will be in March – but at least before the arrival of Leopard 2 and other Western main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Zelensky warned Ukrainians on Saturday that the country is entering a period when the occupier throws more of its forces into breaking down our defenses.

All eyes are on Donbass

The Russians’ likely focus will be on the eastern Donbass region. Andriy Cherniak, an official in Ukraine’s military intelligence service, told the Kyiv Post that Putin had ordered his armed forces to capture Donetsk and Luhansk by the end of March. “We have observed that Russian occupation forces are redeploying additional assault teams, units, weapons and military equipment to the east,” Cherniak said. “According to Ukrainian military intelligence, Putin has ordered the capture of all territory in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”

Other Ukrainian officials and Western military analysts suspect that Russia may throw in some wildcards to confuse and confuse. They are eyeing a distraction from Belarus, mimicking last February’s northern push towards Kyiv and Vinnytsia, west of the capital. But Ukrainian defense officials estimate that Belarus currently has only 12,000 Russian troops, outside of joint training exercises with the Belarusian army, far fewer than enough to be deployed.

“Repeated attacks on Kiev make no sense,” said Michael Kaufman, an American expert on the Russian armed forces and fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank. “An operation to cut supply lines to the west, or an operation to seize the nuclear power plant by Rivne, may be more feasible, but this would require a much larger force than Russia currently deploys in Belarus,” he said in an analysis.

But it remains unclear exactly where Russia’s main thrusts will come along the 600-kilometer-long front line in Ukraine’s Donbass region. Western military analysts do not expect Russia to mount a push along the entire snaking front — perhaps launching a two- or three-pronged attack on some key villages and towns in southern Donetsk, Kremina and Lyman in Luhansk, and further south. In Zaporizhia, where a surge of troops and equipment was reported across the Russian border.

In the Luhansk region, Russian forces are evacuating residents near the Russian-held part of the front line. And the region’s governor, Serhi Haidai, believes the expulsions are intended to purge potential Ukrainian spies and locals looking for Ukrainian artillery. “There is active movement (of Russian troops) in the region and they are definitely preparing to do something on the eastern front,” Haidai told reporters.

Reznikov said he expected the Russian offensive to come simultaneously from the east and the south – south to Zaporizhia and Donetsk and Luhansk. In the run-up to the main offensive, Russian forces are checking five points along the front, according to Ukraine’s General Staff at a press briefing on Tuesday. They said Russian troops had regrouped in various parts of the front line and were conducting offensives near Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region and Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdivka and Novopavlivka in eastern Donetsk.

Combined arms warfare

Success, however, will likely elude the Russians if they cannot correct two major failings that have hampered their military operations thus far—poor supplies and a failure to coordinate infantry, armor, artillery, and air support to achieve mutually complementary effects, otherwise known. As in combined arms warfare.

In announcing the appointment in January of General Valery Gerasimov – the former chief of the defense staff – as the overall commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry highlighted the “need to organize closer interaction between the types of forces and weapons”. In other words to improve combined arms warfare.

Kaufman assessed that Russia’s logistical problems were largely surmountable. “There has been considerable restructuring in Russian logistics and logistics. I think the conversation on Russian logistics issues in general suffers from too much anecdotalism and received wisdom,” he said.

Failing that, much will depend for Russia on how well Gerasimov has been able to train his full force in combined arms warfare, and there is great doubt that he has had enough time. Kaufman believes that Ukrainian forces “would be better served to absorb Russian offensives and neutralize Russian offensive potential, then take the initiative later this spring. It could weaken Russian defenses overall by expending ammunition, advanced troops, and equipment.” ” He suspects that offensive “may prove humiliating.”

Pro-war Russian military bloggers agree. They are calling for another coalition, the breakthroughs needed to power the breakthroughs needed to reverse Russia’s military fortunes. Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence officer and paramilitary commander who played a key role in the annexation of Crimea and later in Donbas, has argued that waves of call-ups would be needed to overcome Ukraine’s defenses by sheer numbers.

And Western military analysts doubt that Ukraine and Russia are currently fielding similar numbers of combat troops. This means that General Gerasimov will need more if he is to achieve the three-to-one ratio military doctrines that advise an invading force need to succeed.

Ukrainian officials expect the Russian offensive to take place in March, ahead of the arrival of the Leopard 2 and other Western tanks. Sascha Schuemann/Getty Images

But others fear that Russia has enough power, if concentrated, to make some “shock gains.” Richard Kemp, a former British Army infantry commander, predicts “significant Russian gains in the coming weeks. We need to be realistic about how bad things can get – otherwise the shock could upset Western resolve,” he wrote. The fear is that if the Russians make significant territorial gains in the Donbass, there will likely be increased pressure from some Western allies to negotiate.

But Gerasimov’s manpower shortages have prompted other analysts to say that if the West holds firm, Putin’s own caution will hamper Russia’s chances of winning the war.

“Putin’s hesitant wartime decision-making demonstrates his desire to avoid risky decisions that could threaten his regime or international growth—despite his maximalist and unrealistic objectives, a full victory in Ukraine likely requires more risk assumption. Success,” War in an analysis this week. The study institute said.

Evil and intimidating Putin may be but, as far as ISW sees it, he has been “reluctant to order the drastic changes in the Russian military and society that are likely to be necessary to salvage his war.”