With a geopolitical event of the size and scope of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I wanted to supply my readers with an update on the war. Many may follow me on Twitter where I have been tweeting out the latest information and developments, but for those who do not and have been unable to keep track of the daily developments I will do my best here.
Currently, Russia has made very little progress in its advances as it continues to be bogged down on most fronts. It has yet to take a major city and has continued to take heavy losses of manpower and equipment. Estimates of their losses have been well documented thanks to an online community skilled at putting together open-source intelligence, or OSINT as the community likes to call it. By the most conservative of estimates, the Russian army is quickly heading to a point where it will not be able to function in any cohesive manner. Earlier this week the Pentagon put out its estimate of the number of Russian soldiers killed in action. Their estimates put the number at between 2,000 and 4,000 killed in the first two weeks of fighting. Certainly, since then, as we are now in the third week of war, that number is higher. President Zelenskyy just today put out a new number, saying that 12,000 Russian soldiers have been killed. That figure as of yet has not been independently verified. Zelenskyy also stated that 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed.
Russian equipment losses have been just as staggering as the number of dead. Much equipment has been lost to either mechanical failures from ill-maintained vehicles, the inability to refuel, or crew morale being at such a low equipment is abandoned. At the time of this writing, the Kyiv Independent reports Russians have lost:
- 362 Tanks
- 585 Vehicles
- 83 Helicopters
- 58 Planes
- 2 Boats
- 33 Anti-aircraft Platforms
- 62 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems)
- 60 Fuel Tankers
- 7 UAV’s
- 135 Artillery Pieces
- 1,205 Armored Personnel Carriers
The numbers are immense and stand by themselves at the sheer ineptness and lack of professional combat skills of the Russian military. New equipment is not arriving in Ukraine from Russia. Instead, what has been witnessed on the ground is older equipment being shipped into the country. Some of it even appears to be old training vehicles. Train loads of civilian vehicles—cars, vans, buses, and trucks—have been spotted coming into the country to suffice as troop transports. Out of desperation Putin has now recruited Syrians to join the fighting in Ukraine. And with that desperation Putin has brought the barbarism that was used by Russian forces in Chechnya and Syria on the civilian population of Ukraine.
Shelling of cities has been indiscriminate. Photographs and videos of bombed out apartment buildings and neighborhoods have flooded social media. The port city of Mariupol is experiencing particular focus of Russia’s brutality. Nearly 1,300 civilians have been reported killed in that city alone. On Wednesday Russia was met by universal condemnation over its bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. In another town near the coast, Melitopol, the mayor was kidnapped by Russian soldiers. Zelenskyy said the kidnapping was terrorism. Hundreds of the city’s residents took to the streets to protest the kidnapping. So far Russians have been unable to make significant progress on taking Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Shelling and air raid sirens have become a normal part of life in the city. Russian forces have been halted to the north of the city for some time now. However, in the last few days, Russia’s military seems to be positioning itself for a major drive towards Kyiv. Though, Putin’s forces lack the numbers and materials to surround, much less, capture the well-fortified capitol city. Any direct combat there promises to be fierce and bloody. On Friday Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said Russia has killed more civilians than Ukrainian soldiers. The International Criminal Court is now actively investigating Russian war crimes along with crimes against humanity.
It is estimated that more than two-million Ukrainians have fled the country since the start of the invasion. The bulk of which have ended up in neighboring Poland. Russia has on several occasions declared humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to escape various cities and towns. However, they have repeatedly violated ceasefire agreements and have killed a number of civilians trying to flee via the corridors. Any ceasefire agreements made with the Russians are unreliable and are often a ploy for Russians to resupply their forces without coming under fire.
On the night of March 3rd, the Russian military deliberately shelled a nuclear power facility in Zaporizhzhia causing a fire to break out. Russian soldiers blocked fire crews from responding. Fortunately, the fire was in a non-critical area and the main nuclear reactors were not damaged. As events unfolded, Ukraine and Europe were on edge fearing another nuclear disaster like the one at Chernobyl or Fukushima. The fire was eventually put out. Zelenskyy called the incident nuclear terrorism. Russian forces have captured several nuclear facilities, including Chernobyl, and have held the staff as hostages as they are forced to maintain the safety of the plants.
Russian disinformation campaigns have been running full tilt on denying war crimes, such as the bombing of the hospital in Mariupol, but it has also been planting stories that may portend Russia’s intentions. The most concerning of which is a story that the U.S. has been working with Ukraine to develop chemical and biological weapons. Observers fear this is a pretext for Russia to introduce chemical weapons in the war. President Biden on Friday said there would be “severe consequences” if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine. Though, he left what those consequences would entail unspecified.
The United States, along with its NATO and non-NATO allies, have been flooding Ukraine with advanced weaponry and equipment. In the first week of the war NATO pushed 17,000 anti-tank weapons, including the now famed Javelin missiles into Ukrainian hands. The U.S. alone has authorized $1.2 billion for Ukraine this year. Today, Biden announced another installment of $200 million worth of weapons heading to Ukrainian fighters. With the damage Ukrainians have wrought thus far on the Russian military, the weapons are being put to good use. Though, not all efforts to arm the Ukrainians have gone smoothly. A flap between the U.S. and Poland over sending MiG’s to Ukraine arose this past week over concerns that the jets arriving in Ukraine from a NATO country would be seen as an escalation by Putin. The MiG deal was cancelled, much to the disappointment of Zelenskyy who has also been pushing allies to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. That idea has been met with cold water, again over fears of escalating a war with a nuclear power.
Vladimir Putin is undoubtedly feeling the war at home. Russia is now the most sanctioned country on planet Earth. Not only have key major banks been sanctioned along with Russian oligarchs, including Putin himself, the U.S. cut off all imports of Russian oil and gas—the lifeblood of the Russian economy. Europe, while more dependent on Russian oil than the U.S., also announced major curtailment of Russian oil imports. Major companies have announced they are suspending investments and closing their businesses in Russia. Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, are just some of the major brand names that have announced the closing of Russian operations. Biden announced the U.S. has ended Russia’s Most Favored Nation status—a move that will open the doors to tariffs. Putin has not opened the Russian stock market since the first sanctions were announced. It is a desperate attempt to avoid the inevitable stock market crash. The value of the Ruble has plummeted and is now worth less than the paper it is printed on. Store shelves are going empty as Russians horde what they can in the full knowledge things are going to get worse. In the weeks and months ahead the economic impact of sanctions will get worse as they start to fully take effect. The Russian economy is cratering.
The people of Russia are also putting pressure on Putin to stop the war. While support still remains high for the war because of the massive disinformation campaign from state-run media, many see through the smoke and mirrors. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets every day since the start of the war. It is estimated that over 13,000 Russians have been detained for protesting.
Inside the Kremlin, Putin is focusing the blame of his botched war on the FSB (the modern version of the KGB). The head of the security forces, Sergey Beseda, and his deputy have reportedly been placed under house arrest. Indeed, a purge, like those that often happened under Stalin, seems to be in the workings. Putin knows his leadership is under threat, and he will undoubtably move to protect himself. With Putin on the ropes, the war in Ukraine seems to be at a turning point. His military is quickly being depleted of men and supplies. In two weeks he has lost more material and men than the Soviets did in two years of fighting in Afghanistan. Russia’s economy is the worst it has been since the fall of the Soviet Union. The next week or two will be critical in determining the rest of the war. Clausewitz once wrote about the “culminating point” when an attacking army hits such strong resistance it runs out of energy and can no longer continue. That point seems quickly approaching.