The Lights Are Still On In Kyiv
Siege notes, Day 3
I did not think that Vladimir Putin was dumb enough to send armored units into urban areas against advanced antitank weapons and Molotov cocktails. I stand corrected.
Ukraine claimed Saturday morning that their forces have already destroyed the equivalent of a Russian mechanized brigade’s worth of tanks and other armored vehicles. At even half that rate of attrition, Putin will break his army quickly, and at that rate he will have no army at all in a matter of weeks. This is not sustainable.
Rejecting evacuation from the capital, President Zelenskyy reportedly told the west to send more ammunition instead. It wasn’t hyperbole — his army’s expenditure of key ordnance has clearly been tremendous. However, fire-and-forget antitank weapons (see above) are far cheaper to make, and more easily shipped to Ukraine, than Russian tanks are. This defense has some staying power. It is sustainable.
Three days into Putin’s war with Ukraine, things are not proceeding as he planned. More airborne insertions have been foiled, the transport planes destroyed in the air, their missions clearly compromised as on the first day.
Eight years after Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine, the country has immunized itself against ‘Little Green Men.’ Russian reconnaissance and sabotage teams were killed or arrested across Kyiv during the hours before dawn. If you were listening to the live feeds from Deutsche Welle or Fox News and heard sporadic gunfire, it was the music of foiled deep penetration missions.
Hybrid war? The lights are still on in Kiev. All the fancy 21st Century conflict theories suggest that means Ukrainians are winning, even if they lose. There’s no panic, no retreat, no surrender — instead, confused Russian prisoners are being interviewed on Twitter. Ukraine says they have taken hundreds of them. At this rate, it will be thousands before the war is over. Their families back home are not going to be pleased with Putin, or start hating Ukraine, when they see dazed survivors describe being told they were embarking on a mere exercise, and it was a lie. Talk about a public morale killer.
None of this is particularly good for Putin. All of it is bad. He is losing by winning.
Of course, the odds against Ukraine are still long. Kyiv sits on either side of the Dnieper, with Russian forces closing from multiple directions. As long as the west side of the river remains in Ukrainian hands, the city center is open to relief and resupply, while Russian forces attacking from the east or south must cross the Dnieper under fire. This portends a long, bloody struggle, block to block and street to street, in exactly the sort of terrain that can bleed a Russian army white.
In fact, I fully expect Ukrainian counterattacks after sunset tonight in Kyiv (about an hour after this is posting). If there is major movement of Ukrainian forces in the two hours before local dawn, we can safely assume the rumors about Russian logistical woes are true, forcing Russian columns to pause and reorganize, and the trap is shutting.
Worse for Putin, Ukraine is still contesting the skies. Without total air supremacy, casualties will multiply. Putin might think he can turn Kyiv into Grozny, but the Chechens didn’t have an air force of their own.
Nor does the capital of Ukraine have some magic button inside it that will make Ukrainians stop killing Russians. On the contrary, Kyiv was almost entirely rebuilt after the Red Army destroyed it twice during World War II. Ukrainians have barely had time to get used to the new city; they won’t mind rebuilding it later. In the meantime, a bit of rubble just makes the streets into a better kill zone for determined defenders.
I just do not see any scenario in which thousands of Russians do not die or get captured in the siege of Kyiv, probably many thousands, with a comparable number of wounded. Which fully explains why Putin’s erstwhile allies, with the exception of Chechnya, are having no part of his war. They can tell it is a shitshow.
There are so many questions. What is a frustrated KGB lawyer to do in this situation? What are his generals telling him, and what is he telling them to do in response, or perhaps screaming at them? How much of his own bullshit, telling Ukrainians to lay down their arms and go home in peace, did Putin actually believe? Were expensive missiles supposed to accomplish something when they hit that apartment building, or are generals just ordering random missile fire to appease their unhappy potentate?
Which brings me to a disturbing question: is anyone in the Kremlin prepared to stop Putin if his behavior spirals towards the use of tactical nuclear weapons in the event of defeat? I stress that this last scenario is unlikely, but Putin’s war was unlikely, too, and so are the curious operational decisions he’s made so far.
If Putin wanted to give the descendants of cossacks exactly the kind of war they want to fight — the kind where they get to kill as many Russians as possible — he could not have designed this offensive any better.
I am not gleeful about this. Catastrophic Russian defeat is exactly the kind of wargame scenario that used to give Cold War planners nightmares. NATO forces never bothered stocking maps of Europe further east than the Polish border regions, since no Soviet government would ever be able to tolerate such a defeat; if western tanks got to Warsaw, the Kremlin would start making liberal use of nukes and VX nerve agents to stop them. Better, the planners thought, to defeat Soviet forces in Germany, stop at the Polish border, and hope saner heads could prevail in Moscow.
Are there saner heads in Moscow? Can they prevail?