Tanks without fuel, crying soldiers, mismanagement on several levels: Putin’s war has been a disaster so far, and the Kremlin chief is said to be increasingly frustrated. What is now looming could overshadow the previous bloodshed.
It’s been almost seven days since the Kremlin chief Wladimir Putin the raid on the Ukraine commanded. As reported by local media with reference to apparently captured war plans, the campaign should already be over next week. The “special operation” – as the official Russian terminology used it – was to take over the urban centers of Ukraine within a few days and, as if by magic, create a stable puppet regime that would be accepted by enough Ukrainians. According to Western intelligence services, this is roughly the plan that was devised in the Kremlin.
Instead: Thousands of dead on both sides, shelling on residential areas, fierce resistance from the local population and a Russian army that is only making slow advances.
In addition to massive logistics problems and rebellious soldiers, the partisan-like revolts of the Ukrainians seem to be thwarting the Kremlin’s plans. Putin’s war is currently struggling with several setbacks, but it would be naïve to think that this is why the offensive is on the brink of failure. On the contrary, things could get even worse for Ukraine.
Don’t believe any propaganda you made up yourself
Perhaps one of the biggest missteps in the early stages of the war was that Putin fell for his own propaganda. His obsession with Ukraine, whose existence he denies – impressively displayed in his revisionist war speech on the eve of Invasion – made the Kremlin chief believe that the neighboring country would be conquered quickly. The Russian army, the soldiers were told, would be welcomed by the Ukrainians as “liberators”.
But instead of flowers for the occupiers, resistance to Putin’s troops formed across the country: Kalashnikovs are being distributed in the capital, volunteer groups are fighting alongside regular armed forces, and videos of civilians blocking the path of tanks are circulating online.
A scene from the occupied town of Konotop in the north of the country shows how determined the Ukrainians are against the attackers. Footage shows a Russian soldier, hand grenades in hand, menacingly walking through a group of civilians just to get into his car. Instead of going to safety, the people react angrily and shoo the soldier from the square.
In other cities, like Mykolayiv or Energodar in the south, residents are building hundreds of meters of barricades out of sandbags and wrecked cars — led by a flag-waving crowd of civilians who seem intent on opposing Putin’s tanks.
Such fierce Ukrainian resistance is a problem not only for a rapid Russian offensive, but also for a future vassal state loyal to Moscow.
Soldiers leave tanks behind
Logistical problems also plague Putin’s offensive. According to reports, this applies in particular to the 64-kilometer military convoy that Kyiv stands and is supposed to conquer the capital.
According to reports, the basic necessities are missing: food for the troops, fuel for tanks. Eyewitnesses tell of Russian armored units stealing fuel from gas stations in order to get anywhere. Others simply left their vehicles on the side of the road. The logistical problems are homemade: apparently Russian commanders were too late in sending the supply wagons across the border and the few that were already in Ukraine were deliberately destroyed by Ukrainian forces.
Ukrainian authorities also released maps and invasion plans that appear to have been left behind at Russian military posts. Soldiers are usually required to destroy such documents in order not to transmit sensitive information to the enemy. The iron law was probably not heeded in this case.
“What fucking battalion?”
The worm is also in there when it comes to communication: the communication between troop formations is supposed to be chaotic. Apparently even analog radios are often used. This makes it easy for the Ukrainian military to record enemy communications.
The British analysis company Shadowbreak Intl. published some of these wiretapped conversations on Twitter, said to have come from Russian soldiers. t-online has translated excerpts from the radio messages, some of which are difficult to understand.
In conversation with “Schneesturm”, apparently codenamed, “Diamond” complains that “R” isn’t finished yet. Apparently it is about a military device that is urgently needed. “Fuck you, you damn sheep! You’ve been standing there for three days.” More swear words follow and questions about when “R” will finally be ready for use. “Snowstorm” replies he doesn’t understand either and promises to take care of it.
In a second recording, also from Shadowbreak Intl. Put in the net, a soldier begins to cry because apparently a Ukrainian battalion is chasing him. “What bloody battalion?” asks his counterpart, but the first soldier only whimpers that he’s seen armed forces somewhere. His voice breaks again and again.
In other cases, the Ukrainian army has managed to use the unencrypted radio messages to locate the intercepted devices and even contacted individual soldiers directly – for example with an offer of 40,000 euros if they surrendered.
Sabotage of your own troops
The footage is further evidence of the many tactical errors made by the Russian military leadership. According to Shadowbreak Intl., which has analyzed many of these conversations, some maps are even missing for orientation. Apparently, the shortage of equipment not only slows the army’s advance, but also undermines the morale of the invading troops.
Most of the soldiers are young conscripts who are poorly equipped, badly trained and psychologically unprepared to fight a “brother nation”. Some are so unhappy with their situation that they sabotage their own vehicles, the US Department of Defense said on Tuesday. Others would desert.
“Apparently not everyone was fully trained and prepared or even aware that they would be sent into combat,” the US media quoted a government official as saying. There are “several, independent” reports that the morale of the troops is down. However, there is no independent information or even figures on deserted Russian soldiers.
A dangerous leak
The incomplete data security of the Russian army seems to be exploited elsewhere. On Tuesday, “Ukrainska Pravda” published a more than 6,660-page list containing the personal data of more than 120,000 Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine – including names, addresses, dates of birth, service numbers and locations. It is unclear who stole the data and how up-to-date they actually are – the action should still work.
“Such a data leak has a strong psychological effect on the organization concerned,” political scientist and military expert Thomas Rid told the dailydot portal. “It leaves an acute sense of vulnerability on a personal level, both in those responsible and in those exposed.”
An alleged assassination attempt on the Ukrainian president also points to problems in the Russian war machine. Chechen fighters – named Kadyrovites after their country’s ruler – are said to follow on Wednesday night Wolodymyr Selenskyj have been sent. According to a Zelenskyi confidant, the attack was thwarted by a tip from the Russian secret service, the FSB – the very apparatus from which Putin himself emerged. According to unconfirmed reports, the tip came from agents opposed to Putin’s war drive.
Putin increasingly ‘frustrated’
A mole in your own ranks? It is not unlikely that US intelligence information has turned out to be astonishingly precise in recent weeks – compared to the past and contrary to many critics. western secret services apparently currently have close ties to Putin’s environment.
According to “NBC”, several intelligence sources report that the Kremlin chief has “changed his behavior” since the beginning of the offensive. Putin is still classified as “mentally stable”, but he is increasingly “frustrated”. Close associates felt his anger at the slow progress of the war and Western sanctions. This is unusual.
The question is what a frustrated Putin means for the course of the war, especially given that he seems to have alienated the entire Ukrainian population. The original plan, as outlined by experts and several intelligence services, was to take over the largest Ukrainian cities, especially Kyiv, in a kind of blitzkrieg, eliminate the government, break the neck of the Ukrainian resistance and install a puppet government at the mercy of Moscow.
Worried about an escalation of violence
Blitzkrieg tactics did not work, and a reasonably stable occupation regime does not seem within reach. From the Ukrainian point of view, it is doubtful whether ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled in 2014 and whose name was mentioned in this context, is a suitable candidate.
Observers therefore fear that Putin could now resort to more violence, for example through cruel war tactics such as carpet bombing of residential areas, in order to demoralize the Ukrainian population. Russia has already gained experience with this tactic in the Syrian city of Aleppo, in the metropolis of millions Kharkiv a similar scenario seems to be imminent.
Rescue service workers assess the damage in Kharkiv City Hall. (Source: Uncredited/Ukrainian Emergency Service/dpa)
A second, even more dangerous scenario has been described, among others, by the Putin biographer and respected Russia expert Fiona Hill: the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
In an interview with the US portal Politico, Hill says of Putin’s total lack of any ethical boundaries: “Anyone who thinks Putin wouldn’t have something unusual and cruel in his arsenal should think again. Every time you think: he would don’t do it,” Hill said. “Well, he would. And of course he wants us to know that.”