Russia’s Putin has made multiple missteps since deciding to invade Ukraine

Sputnik, Kremlin pool photo via AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a slew of miscalculations since launching his military offensive in Ukraine. Those missteps are now coming back to haunt him.

Factors such as stiffer-than-expected resistance from Ukrainian military forces have likely forced a rethink in Moscow’s strategy. Putin, who has wielded power in Russia since 2000, apparently overestimated the fighting capabilities of the Russian forces, among other related considerations.

On Feb. 26, two days after Russia declared the start of its campaign, a state-run media outlet published a column titled “The arrival of Russia and a new world.” The article celebrated Russia’s military “victory” through such assertions as “Ukraine has returned to Russia” and “There is no longer an anti-Russian Ukraine.” The feature was quickly deleted.

The article clearly indicates that Putin’s administration planned to topple Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pro-Western administration within 48 hours of launching the invasion. In a speech before the incursion began, Putin derided Ukraine as a “failed state.” He even seemed to suggest that merely dispatching military forces to Ukraine might be enough to effectuate a bloodless capitulation and the surrender of the capital, Kyiv, and other cities.

Fierce resistance

As of Wednesday — the seventh day of aggression — Zelenskyy and his government had shown no signs of submission. Most military affairs experts agree that Moscow’s failure to gain air superiority on the first day of the offensive has had serious repercussions.

The assault on Ukraine’s major cities also has not progressed as Russia had hoped. Airborne troops dropped into these areas have failed to achieve many of their objectives and Russian ground troops have met fierce resistance from Ukrainian fighters. Moscow’s forces are becoming trapped in a vicious circle.

Much of Russia’s military equipment and machinery is outmoded. Tanks dating from the days of the Soviet Union figured among the weaponry dispatched from the country’s Eastern Military District for the assault on Kyiv, about 8,000 kilometers away.

A U.S. Defense Department senior official has speculated that morale among Russian soldiers is low because most are young conscripts, not volunteers. “Some of them, we believe, weren’t even told they were going to be in combat,” the official said Tuesday.

‘Empire of lies’

On the third day of the invasion, the United States and European nations decided to exclude Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial transaction system. It seems Putin miscalculated on this point, too.

Before the invasion started, the Russian leader held summit talks with the heads of Germany and France and confirmed a plan to continue Russian economic cooperation. Analysts believe Putin may have assumed that even if Russia launched an attack, Germany, France and other nations would not take SWIFT-related measures as it would be a last-resort financial sanction. In a meeting with economic ministers and other officials at the end of February, Putin reportedly could not conceal his frustration, blasting the West as “an empire of lies.”

Putin may be proud he has largely managed to keep domestic turmoil under control since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, his decision to attack Ukraine could end up sowing unrest in Russian society.

Plans are underway for a large antiwar demonstration in Moscow in mid-March. A Russian antigovernment movement, long forbidden under stringent government measures, could again spark into life.