Wars are unpredictable affairs. Experts can evaluate troop strength and weaponry. But morale and courage do not lend themselves to quantifiable analysis. Nor does leadership. No one can predict when a former KGB agent will become psychotic, or when a former comic will mutate from a Charlie Chaplin to a Winston Churchill.
But allowing for the uncertainty, it now appears likely that Russia will lose its war against Ukraine.
Russian forces are running out of supplies. There are reports of hungry Russian soldiers looting supermarkets and gas stations, desperately seeking food and fuel. Russian rations have been found bearing 2002 expiration dates, evidence of corruption within Russia’s military bureaucracy. That 40-mile convoy of armored vehicles, the subject of much speculation, has been stalled outside the capital for days, apparently unable to move. The reason may relate, again, to corruption. Reportedly, government officials bought cheap Chinese imitations of the Michelin XZL military tire, and the shoddy merchandise is failing, as counterfeits are wont to do.
Cable television maps show expanding Russian penetration into the country. But appearances are deceiving. Ukraine is very large, and the Ukrainian defense forces are trading territory for time. The further the Russians advance, the longer and more vulnerable their supply lines become. So while they may occupy more space, they are unable to capture many cities.
Moreover, it is not clear whether capturing cities represents any kind of victory. Russians troops may blast their way in, but once in, they lack the manpower to control. In the southern city of Kherson, military units were greeted by defiant crowds, jeering and calling them “fascists.” In one video, a local resident can be seen climbing up on a Russian armored personnel carrier, triumphantly waving the Ukrainian flag while local citizens cheer. From the video, it is hard to tell who has conquered whom.
Russia has now committed all of the personnel mobilized for the invasion. There are no remaining reserves. Russian casualties are much higher than expected. Ukrainian military officials recently claimed the figure exceeds 11,000, while Russia put the figure at a much lower 498. Both figures may be dismissed as propaganda, but the actual number doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Russia has become so desperate for manpower that it is hiring Chechens, and offering large cash payments to Syrians, to fight in Ukraine.
The bombing of civilian targets, however inhumane, is another sign of weakness, not strength. Putin and his commanders would not be unleashing this misery if they thought they were winning. Instead, they would be preparing to install a puppet government to rule a sullen and subdued populace. Bombing civilians just stiffens Ukrainian resolve. It is the military equivalent of a childish temper tantrum, and further evidence that Russia is losing.
Anything can happen. But in view of what is happening so far, it may be time to start planning for Russia’s defeat. And that planning should begin with this somewhat counter-intuitive realization: historically, Russia and the United States have been friends, not enemies.