This is just one man’s assessment, but Ben Hodges’s analysis of the state of play jibes with that of retired Aussie Gen. Mick Ryan, whom I wrote about this morning. Like Hodges, Ryan believes that the Russian advance has either already culminated or is about to. They’re too poorly supplied and have taken too many losses to push forward inexorably, particularly when doing so would involve them in urban warfare. There seems no chance at this point that Russia will ever occupy Kiev. They might not even be able to mount a siege at this point, as Kiev is a big city and tightly encircling it likely requires more troops than Russia can muster.
Kyiv is not besieged.
I’ve traveled the southern road arteries in and out of the city over the past few days and the roads are open and safe and filled with cars and trucks (flowing in both directions). Gas station lines are relatively normal too — life has adapted to wartime.
— Nolan Peterson (@nolanwpeterson) March 15, 2022
This is almost 2 weeks with little to no progress by Russian forces in the north around Kyiv. https://t.co/9To9RX9dhX
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) March 15, 2022
Today Zelensky and his team taunted Putin over his army’s inability to cut Kiev off by hosting a summit for the ages, a gathering with the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic in Kiev during an attempted Russian takeover. This is brazen, physically courageous defiance of Russia by the leaders of eastern Europe. Zelensky’s bravery is catching, it seems:
Volodymyr Zelensky:"Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki,Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Czech Prime Minister Piotr Fiala and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa.Your visit to Kyiv at this difficult time is a powerful evidence of support We appreciate it very much. pic.twitter.com/t1AEcxAXTv
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 15, 2022
Parliament is also in session, war be damned:
Today #Ukraine held an emergency session of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). Despite Putin’s brutal attacks over 350 out of 425 MPs were present. They sang the national anthem. They refused to be cowed. pic.twitter.com/i30SyMUdcz
— David Patrikarakos (@dpatrikarakos) March 15, 2022
Hodges explained why he believes Russia has so little time on the clock in a short essay published this afternoon. Estimates of how long the army can continue on the offensive vary among experts from a few weeks to several months but most seem to think that something has to give in the near term. They can’t take the sort of casualties they’re taking and suffer the morale problems they’re facing from bad tactics and feeble logistics for very long. But time is of the essence for NATO, Hodges argues. Reinforcements — of a poor quality, but still — may be available as soon as April 1:
An essential caveat to my assessment is that we, the West, led by the US, must accelerate and expand the support we are providing to Ukraine on the scale and with the sense of urgency of the Berlin Airlift (June 1948-May 1949). They need the weapons and ammunition to destroy the rockets, cruise missiles, and long-range artillery that are causing most of the damage to Ukrainian cities, as well as the intelligence to locate those systems, and the ability to hit Russian Navy vessels that are launching cruise missiles into cities from the Black Sea and the Azov Sea…
The Pentagon has said that 50% of Russian combat power was committed in Ukraine. At the height of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we were about 29% committed. And it was difficult to sustain that…
Russia’s dilemma is only worsened by its combat casualties. Although I am always skeptical about enemy body counts, I do believe the numbers of dead are in the thousands (possibly in the 5,000-6,000 range suggested by US sources) and the numbers of wounded much higher. The modern battlefield is extremely lethal, especially for poorly trained or disciplined soldiers. These are very high numbers for just the first two weeks of war and many come from Russia’s elite units — they are hard to replace (and the Kremlin won’t be able to conceal these losses from the Russian public and all those for long.)…
There is now an opportunity to exacerbate their manpower problem. The next intake of conscripts into the Russian Army is on April 1, when around 130,000 Russian families are required to send their sons (18-25) to Conscription Centers where they will be inducted into the Russian Army as privates.
Putin has pledged more than once not to send conscripts to fight in Ukraine but the troops inducted next month could be sent to quieter posts around Russia to relieve more experienced soldiers, who might then deploy to Ukraine. Hodges wants an all-hands-on-deck effort in the west, especially in Europe, to try to puncture Putin’s information bubble by getting news of the debacle in Ukraine to Russian families through all possible means. The more Russian kids refuse to report on April 1, the more quickly Russia’s army in Ukraine will break down.
Notably, Ryan isn’t one of the experts who think a near-term Russian defeat is in the offing. He believes they’ll adapt, doubling down on their new strategy of bombing Ukrainian cities with artillery while trying to avoid close combat. If Putin can keep them supplied, he thinks they can drag this on for months and kill huge numbers of Ukrainians.
Hodges is more optimistic. Surveying Russia’s poor preparations for a long war, he wonders how big their remaining stockpile of armaments is at this point, particularly after some countries cut off weapons sales due to the war. And even if Moscow can find a willing seller, like China, it’s an open question as to how much they can afford to purchase. If you were Beijing, would you want to extend a line of credit to a country that’s already on the brink of default?
I’m already out on a limb in wondering whether the war in Ukraine will truly be as long as everyone expects, replete with a years-long Russian occupation and Ukrainian insurgency. Putin has the will to wage that war. The question is whether he has a way.
Maybe he does? Read this thread by a Ukrainian journalist about Russia’s strategy in the south. If — if — they can take the city of Mykolayiv, they can lay siege to Odessa. And if their other forces in the south can push north, they can cut off Ukraine’s army in the Donbas from the rest of the country. If Hodges is right, they have less than two weeks to make it happen.
Here’s two minutes with Hodges on MSNBC yesterday. By the way, there’s one more figure who believes — publicly at least — that the tide of the war has turned towards Ukraine. That would be Volodymyr Zelensky, who claimed a few days ago that the battle had reached a “strategic turning point.” That might have been empty morale boosting, of course, but Zelensky’s dismissive comments about NATO today are a case of interesting timing. If he too believes Russia will soon have no choice but to make a deal for peace, it makes sense that he’d want to begin softening up Ukrainian public opinion towards concessions. And the easiest concession to make will be giving up any opportunity to join NATO.