The irony of the neocons, who couldn’t hold onto Iraq or Afghanistan over the course of two decades, babbling about how Russia has failed after a single week of military operations on a grand scale, should not escape you:
Putin rolled the dice of war and didn’t beat Ukraine. This, in strategic terms, probably means he lost the campaign. In retrospect, the Kremlin’s plan consisted of an airborne/airmobile/Spetsnaz descent on Kyiv, the mission of which was to establish an airhead in the capital and capture the Ukrainian government until relieved by mechanized forces racing in from the north. An airmobile assault was attempted at Gostomel to Kyiv’s immediate north.
But things went badly wrong. The Russian battalion-sized airmobile force met stiff air defense and was immediately counterattacked by the Ukrainian mobile reserve. Unable to land follow-on forces, the paratroopers could not withstand heavy weapons and were scattered or wiped out. Equally serious for the Russians was the failure of their northern pincer to advance on schedule.
Desperate to “bag” the Ukrainian government, the Russians attempted a large-scale airborne assault for Vasylkiv Airfield to the south of Kyiv to establish a blocking position to catch withdrawing units. But this failed, with two C-17 counterpart IL-76s loaded with paratroops destroyed, and with them, two infantry companies of the Kremlin’s finest. Crucially the Russian mechanized elements trickling into Kyiv proved too weak to break through the city defense.
When it was clear Zelensky, and hence the Ukrainian government, could not be bagged and was quite capable of retreating in good order to fallback positions in the West, it was obvious that Putin could not conclude the campaign with the political time and the military forces at hand. At this, the diplomatic floodgates opened, with even China urging a diplomatic solution, and much of the world, scared to death of a third world war, timidly then more forcefully chiming in.
Ukraine has not won, not in the military sense. It has lost territory, suffered significant losses to soldiers and civilians, and endured massive property damage. But crucially, it has not lost — and that may be enough.
Playing for an immediate checkmate doesn’t come off doesn’t mean you lose the game. It certainly doesn’t mean that your plan failed either. It’s just an aggressive opening gambit from which you proceed with your primary plan if, as you must always anticipate, you fail to get lucky and score an easy win. The strike battalion’s failed attempt to decapitate Ukraine’s foreign leadership on the first day of the operation was no different than the US Air Force’s attempt to bomb Saddam Hussein at the beginning of the 2003 Iraq campaign.
After all, it’s not as if the defeat at Arnhem, the famous “bridge too far” which caused the failure of Operation Market Garden, prevented the Allies from defeating Germany. It just meant that the war ended in May 1945 instead of before Christmas 1944, and that the Soviets took Berlin instead of the Americans.
Those with even a modicum of familiarity with military history are aware that the Russian operation is a model of near-textbook efficiency, bypassing the cities and enveloping enemy units by striking on multiple fronts.
Russia has already won the first battle of the Global Crusade, as the outcome of the Ukro-Russian war is no longer in any doubt, but the war between The Empire That Never Ended and the free nations of the world is very, very far from over.