Has Putin overplayed his hand?

This article was first published on February 24th 2022

Last month I wrote the following post on the basis of the information I had, having travelled to Ukraine. In that post among other things, I projected war would start once the winter Olympics finished. So Jan 22. See here: Briefing: Why did Russia attack Ukraine really?

Having now spoken to a lot of people in the last 24 hours I am starting to believe Putin could have overplayed his hand here. How so?

  1. For people that don’t know this, I have a team of 14 people in Ukraine. Today, 4 resigned. All had been training with the territorial army and were going to fight. It’s a small sample, nonetheless is indicative of the fact that the Ukrainian people are ready to fight.
  2. Since 2014, the UK and US have been supplying the Ukrainian army with state of the art weaponry. Laser-guided surface to air missiles, specially designed tank busters etc. They have been training for this. In contrast, the Russian army is still using 30 yr old weaponry. Some tanks are even older. Why does this matter? When the Ukrainian army is being forced to defend lots of territories it is thinly spread. A well placed Russian offensive can win a strategic position. Equally, when the Ukrainian army concentrates its forces, they can too. As a case study, the military airstrip outside Kyiv seized by the Russians this afternoon was taken back by the Ukrainian army tonight.
  3. NATO declared today that while their troops will not be deployed in Ukraine, member states wishing to supply hardware and machinery could continue to do so. With that Johnson has stated today that the British will continue to provide military support. Combined with Poland who have a land border with Ukraine, this means the army have the ability to continually rearm. In the same way Turkey are blocking black sea access to the Russian navy.
  4. Ukraine is a massive country. Twice the size of Poland. It is estimated for the Russian army to occupy the entire country they would need 500k troops. They currently have under 200k mobilised, but so do the Ukrainians, not including their TA. As long as they own their western border, which is the hardest for Russia to win, and they keep their morale, they can stay in the fight even if they lose Kyiv.
  5. Another interesting insight to emerge from listening to Johnson today was that he was very clear. Russia would not be allowed to negotiate a settlement post factum. They had their chance to negotiate and its gone. Instead, the UK would do everything in its power to make Russia a pariah state. The British and American response is likely to cripple the Russian economy and also freeze assets of the richest. The longer the war continues the more there will be internal resistance in Moscow.

Similarly, Macron has an election to win, he offered a way to peace through championing arguably the very one-sided Minsk accords and with that now in tatters, domestically will have to be seen to stand up to Putin. In effect, the west (esp with trump gone) is more united than it ever was.

Should sanctions be escalated in due course to swift and banning Russian oil and gas imports, Putin could find his position untenable.

Anyway for now everything’s on a knife-edge. For the Russians, they need a quick win and de-escalation. Ideally with a partitioned Ukraine and puppet govt. To do that they will need an overwhelming victory, which would include taking Kyiv. But so far that’s not what we are seeing, and the longer this drags on the more. Putin himself is at risk. Watch this space…

 

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About the author: James Chaplin
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