One need not overthink the Russian military’s struggles on its journey to conquering Ukraine. The money is of little consequence, for all intents and purposes, and something truly dramatic needs to happen for the outcome to be anything but a Russian victory.
It appears that the process itself is taking longer than Moscow expected. There are several reasons for this, but none of them pertain to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s resolve. Anyone who initially thought that the Russian leader would blink or waver from his path due to criticism and sanctions needs to wake up if they haven’t already. The military campaign will end only when Kyiv is under full Russian control; no other reasonable analysis of the war to this point can lead to a different conclusion.
In Ukraine and the West, officials in recent days have boasted of successes on the ground against the Russian army. Indeed, it seems there were such triumphs, but they primarily stemmed from difficulties on the Russian side and the nature of the fighting chosen by the Kremlin. The insertion of long, slow-moving convoys of armored vehicles has afforded the defender a certain advantage: incapacitating the first couple of vehicles is enough to stymie the entire flow. This was apparently the cause for the significant delay of the Russian forces’ progress, but it’s not enough to change the bottom line: Two massive military formations are now on their way to fully encircling the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
The unplanned delays (some of which are also a byproduct of the Russian army being a heavy, cumbersome, old-fashioned army with rather outdated methods of operation), seem to have led the Russians to somewhat change their tactics.
In the early stages, the Russians tried avoiding civilian casualties and hitting civilian infrastructure as much as possible. This stemmed from their desire to avoid Western criticism, and just as importantly, their view of Ukraine as a liberated territory and that damaging it was equivalent to self-harm.
Now, however, the Russians have taken off their gloves. This has been noticeable over the past 48 hours in Ukraine, specifically in Kharkiv, with direct attacks on civilian population centers and public buildings. The use of missiles, rockets and mortars of varying types is meant to instill a sense of fear and bolster deterrence, and with the increase in casualties and food and water shortages, there will also be a natural erosion of the residents’ ability to hold out.
It’s also safe to assume that the Russians will try doing this in Kyiv. They will want to avoid house-to-house fighting, which would inflict many casualties, on them as well, and amplify international pressure on Moscow even more. Applying extreme physical pressure on the city, however, will afford them a chance to strike accords that give them control, without the need for too large a bloodbath.
And still, if it has to, the Russian army will become carnivorous. Its record in Syria and Chechnya indicates that it is willing to go very far to meet the objectives it has been tasked with achieving.
Sans the will to intervene militarily, the West lacks any real tools to alter this scenario. The focus needs to be on what happens next: to punish Russia for its actions, and prevent other countries from following in its footsteps by launching wars and conquests.
This now requires the West, led by the Americans, to focus more on actions than words. Condemnations in the United Nations and war-crimes investigations at the International Criminal Court are all well and good, but insufficient.
Russia will only recalculate its course when feels it is paying a tangible and mainly economic price for what it has done. If Ukraine has any chance, it won’t come in the immediate future, and it certainly doesn’t depend on the heroic acts of its people; rather, only on whether Russia decides down the road that this move is no longer necessary, too expensive and too painful, and chooses to withdraw.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.