Putin’s delusional special military operation was supposed to bring Ukraine to heel in three days – 535 days later, with Russian deaths running into the high tens of thousands, the Russian military now pinned down into defensive positions and the ruble close to collapse, it’s surely just a matter of time, writes Lt Col Stuart Crawford.
We are now roughly 535 days into Vladimir Putin’s planned “three-day special military operation” that began back in February 2022. That statistic alone tells us that things have not panned out exactly as he was hoping.
What’s the state of play at the moment? Well, stalemate you may think, at least on the ground in Ukraine. But it’s actually worse than stalemate for Putin; he is losing in almost every domain in which he is engaged. Let’s have a look in detail.
In the field his armies have been rebuffed, ground to a halt, and transitioned mainly to the defensive. Their losses have been horrendous, both in equipment and personnel. So much so, in fact, that he has had to extend the age range for conscription to provide sufficient troops to keep his war going and bring ancient, 50-year old tanks out of storage to re-equip his regiments.
He then suffered the embarrassment of the mutiny of his erstwhile friend Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group, which took over Russian headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and started marching up the motorway to Moscow. This was defused by Putin’s ally President Lukashenko of Belarus and the Wagner Group was effectively disarmed and sent into exile, but the blow to Putin’s prestige has been considerable.
The UkrAF are now battering away at Russian defence lines along a 1,000 kilometre front line. Neither side is making much progress in a slogging match reminiscent of the First World War. Gains are measured in hundreds of metres, casualties in their thousands. Putin’s armies are stuck.
At sea things have gone just as badly. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is now basically bottled up in its ports, hemmed in by increasingly effective Ukrainian attacks based largely on their innovative sea drones and anti-ship missiles donated by the West.
Putin’s war was doomed from the very start
Things started badly for Putin with the loss of the Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, to drone attack, and have just got worse since. Not only has the strategic Kerch bridge been attacked successfully at least twice by sea drones, but so too have an increasing number of Russian naval ships despite increased defensive measures. Much of the Black Sea is now denied to his ships.
And in the air things are hardly better. An early indication of how things might develop occurred at Hostomel airport just outside Kyiv, when the Russian coup de main operation to capture it from the air failed miserably with several of their helicopters shot down.
The Russian air force, primarily designed to counter NATO operations by defeating western aircraft in the air, has found trying to tackle the extensive Ukrainian ground-based air defences hard going, to the extent that they now seldom venture further forward than the front line of their own troops. When they do they incur heavy losses.
Meanwhile Russia has proved vulnerable to Ukrainian drone attacks from the air. Russian Crimean military bases such as Sevastopol and nearby airbases have been struck many times, while Moscow itself has been subjected to multiple attacks. While damage to the Russian capital to date has been slight, the propaganda value of these strikes should not be underestimated.
On top of all this, Putin is also losing the information war. Helped by NATO intelligence and information assets, the Ukrainians have presented their cause to the world with much greater skill and effect than have the Russians.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
Lt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now