One of the most remarkable things to cross my path, deep in a Tasmanian forest, edged by a wineglass beach – was a five-foot Black Tiger snake. From nowhere, the thing appeared. Aggressive, attracted to motion, venomous, merciless on resistance, a nuclear power in the wild, it rises to prey, then collapses – if unsuccessful. Putin has the profile – and the vulnerability. Collapse is nearing.
Fresh data on Putin’s extraordinary overreach, overestimation of Russia’s military prowess, misunderstanding of Ukraine’s nationalism, tenacity, and gut-level courage – continues to roll in.
Russian casualties whispered in Moscow with fear – but known – are high. In one month, they rival all the Red Army’s losses in Afghanistan over ten years. North of eight thousand, some say more than 15,000, have been killed. How do you explain this, in weeks ahead, to Russian mothers at Easter?
An indefensible assault expected to last three days, is now dead in the water outside Kiev, while other Ukrainian cities are alive with ghosts who refuse to relent, continue to take vengeance, and impose loss.
Ukrainian forces are proving stunningly nimble, versatile, persistent, and effective, another miscalculation by Russian intelligence, or sign that no one wanted to tell a clothes-less emperor.
As 100,000 new Russian conscripts reluctantly reported for duty on April 1, Putin pulled troops from Africa, Syria, and Moldova to Ukraine’s front lines. Resistance is now gaining, pushing his troops in the north, disrupting rotations, and launching counterattacks. Ukraine is actually pushing Russian troops further north.
Contrary to pronouncements, “damaged units” are not launching a grand offensive to the East. They cannot. Instead, those present pound Donbas and Mariupol. The strategy has shifted from intimidation and a swift, compelled surrender to gloves off, or “ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.”
To what end? How does Putin declare victory? If Ukraine – with Western support – scores future victories, immobilizing what was thought a magnificent conventional force, momentum shifts. What then? Putin’s brave face, consummate autocrat, may crack. Confident without basis, walls may tip-in.
The likeliest outcome now is that Putin starts to listen to generals not yet arrested or dead. He lost five major generals in combat, one admiral, a major resupply ship, and he is pinned down. He has airpower, numbers, fresh recruits, a lot at stake – but odds are moving. Soon, he may start talking to those dead generals. For now – the endgame must be consolidation of gains, the insurgency notwithstanding.
All this means that the “grand plan” was a paper tiger. Yes, Putin still has WMD, if he wishes to challenge Hitler for ignominy – but he is slowly beginning to look like a Black Tiger snake in retreat. If the kill is not quick, impact decisive, prey not disarmed and taken, things change. They are changing now in Ukraine.
Interestingly, what the attacker thought easy prey is becoming a battlefield fumble; it is shaping up as a collapse, a profound strategic loss. NATO is stronger, and will stay so. Defense budgets are up, even here.
China is questioning the wisdom of brute-force and illegal conquest, reducing their fighter invasions of Taiwan’s airspace, registering a stutter-step with Russia, questioning whether unified anti-Russian sanctions might hurt China, and whether fresh European energy deals with the US are a problem.
So, while the path towed is uncertain, and nations with predatory ambitions rise in that path, fangs out, they can fail, attack collapsing too. Putin shows how venal ambition can collapse on itself; his is.