After 26 days of fighting, a senior U.S. defense department official said that the Russians had not been able to advance within nine miles northwest of Kyiv — essentially where they were since last week — and to within 18 miles from the city’s east, which is where they were a week ago.
A Russian-controlled port in southern Ukraine, the capture of which was heralded as a “milestone event” in the war by Vladimir Putin’s military, is now burning, and a tank-landing ship docked at the port has been sunk, according to the Ukrainian navy.
Videos on social media purportedly showed the port of Berdyansk in flames on Thursday morning. The Ukrainian navy says the Orsk Russian tank-landing ship was destroyed at the port, and media reports indicate that two other ships are “smoking heavily and trying to escape.” A warehouse with ammunition and fuel was reportedly destroyed at the port as well.
The Ukrainian war is not going well for Putin. Predictions that Ukraine would collapse in a few days were wrong. The Ukrainian army has shown itself to be a more tactical, energized and effective fighting force than expected. The Russians have not won control of the skies and have not taken Kyiv. Mariupol might be a smoking ruin after Russian bombardment, and the Russians may have raised their flag over the city of Kherson but Ukrainians are not conceding. With the Russian advance generally stalled and Russian troops digging in in a defensive posture, the Ukrainian army is moving forward to aggressively retake areas around Kyiv. According to the mayor of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces have already retaken Irpin, a suburb near Kyiv, after intense street fighting. The New York Times reports that the Russian fighting force has dipped below 90% which is a crucial marker for effective fighting by the Russians. There are reports that Russian soldiers and some generals are deeply demoralized over this unprovoked war with Ukraine.
Putin’s Big Miscalculations
The Russian military is having trouble feeding, tending to their wounded soldiers and resupplying troops that have advanced into Ukraine and have come under attack. Communication and logistics matter. Some Russian generals who were unable to communicate with their troops in convoys that were extended for miles, were said to have commandeered Ukrainian cell phones so that they could talk with their troops and because of their inability to communicate, drove to the front of the stalled advancing line only to be picked off by Ukrainian fighters. The Russians have lost at least five generals so far. NATO estimates that Russia has lost 7- 10,000 soldiers and that the Russian injured or missing number 30,000 to 40,000. These are shocking numbers and they indicate a remarkable level of military incompetence and/or a lack of willpower. Many more Russian soldiers will be coming home in body bags than Putin and his overly confident generals anticipated.
Putin didn’t plan for this. He arrogantly thought Russia would take Ukraine in a few days. He didn’t expect the push back he is getting from Europe or the US. As the war drags on Putin and Russia will be dragged down more and more. Think about it. If Russia cannot even get replacement parts for airplanes, for example, it will soon become too dangerous to fly in Russia. This circumstance alone would be crippling. Russia is a big country. How can a country the size of Russia continue to operate if airplanes are grounded? That is just one aspect of the multiple sanctions that will impact Russia more and more over time. Unless China steps in to help Putin, Russia will be crippled and this gruesome fight will end faster, which is in everyone’s interest.
Where the Miscalculations Came From
Why did Putin believe he could easily invade and take over Ukraine? Where did he get the confidence to attack a sovereign country?
Vladimir Putin was encouraged over time to believe he could act aggressively and with impunity in many situations across the globe and get away with it. He succeeded in taking Chechnya, Crimea, parts of Georgia and he used the same brutal tactics in Chechnya and Syria, committing war crimes without being stopped by the world. Putin did not get push back from the West until now.
Trump compounded the problem. While Trump was president he encouraged Putin to be as aggressive as he wanted to be. Trump was a Putin sycophant. When Biden left Afghanistan Putin took it as a sign that America would not want to use its military might to protect Ukraine because it would be too expensive and the American people would not support another war. Americans are deeply divided over culture war issues and so far are unable to unite against the GOP’s authoritarianism enough to cast out the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Donald Trumps. But Putin read the tea leaves wrong here again. Americans are united in opposition to him as a dictator and demagogue with the exception of a small but loud Republican right wing represented by Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and others whose support for Putin and against Joe Biden are being used by Putin to promote his disinformation efforts.
One of the biggest reasons Putin is getting such intense push back from the EU and the US is because he seriously misjudged Joe Biden. He thought of Biden as weak. He underestimated Biden’s super power– namely, bringing leaders together around a moral purpose. And Putin also misjudged the value of a moral purpose as something people would rise up to fight for. Biden has solidified NATO and the EU in opposition to Putin in part out of fear but also out of moral outrage. Putin underestimated the ability of the EU to rally in opposition to a direct threat from him. He misunderstood the American people who care deeply about freedom and fairness even if they are pitted against each other by cynical Republicans who are trying to win elections using culture war politics. Putin also underestimated Zelensky who has become a beacon of hope for people in Ukraine and all around the world yearning for freedom and fairness and insisting on democracy; willing to put their lives on the line for the people and country they love. He miscalculated the energy of the Ukrainian people to fight for their homes, their lives, and their freedom from authoritarian rule. That willingness to fight and die protecting their families, their land, their history and their democracy from Russian intervention is giving the Ukrainians a power that Russian soldiers cannot match. It’s the power of love.
Will the Russian People Turn Against Putin If They Learn the Truth?
There is a reason people want a free and fair democracy and need a free press in order to sustain a democracy. Look at what has happened in Russia. The Russian people no longer have an independent press and because of that they are in the dark- misled and disinformed. They have nothing but fake news and propaganda all day and all night. Because of that steady diet of lies, polls show that the Russian people support what Putin is doing and 70% of them would even support a Russian incursion into a NATO country like Poland.
Russian disinformation utilizes the same basic urgings and wishes that people all around the world experience such as a desire for fairness and equal treatment and good lives for the people they care about. The propaganda machine cynically reframes and rewrites reality in favor of the government’s goals to keep the population on their side. For example, the propaganda machine rewrite of reality lies to Russians telling them that the Ukrainian government is riddled with Nazis and must be “denazified”. That is ridiculous on its face because Zelensky is Jewish and his relatives were killed by Nazis in World War II. The Russians also claim that Ukrainians have been attacking Russians and committing genocide against Russians. Russian propaganda claims that the Ukrainians are Russian kin who want Russians to come in and take over the country.
It is true that many Ukrainians are Russian kin but not that they want Russia to take over. Given their close relationships, how long will it be before Russians understand how much damage Putin is doing to their own flesh and blood relatives? If the Russian people knew what was really going on, that their government was bombing innocent Ukrainians- killing children and helpless people whose crime was being in the wrong building at the wrong time, and kidnapping Ukrainian citizens and forcing them to go to Russian interment camps, it is hard to believe they would support what Putin is doing. They would understand that Putin is the Nazi here.
The Power of Love
There is a wall between the truth and the lies being told to Russians and that wall can be pierced. Even now, Russians who use the Internet are getting the truth from Telegram. Even now, Russians in government and the military who know better are having to pretend they don’t. Even now Ukrainians are calling their Russian relatives and telling them the truth. Ukrainians are using facial recognition software to identify dead Russian soldiers and matching those images to the images on Facebook–then publicizing the deaths of these Russians as a way to break through Putin’s iron curtain of disinformation. That’s one way to inform Russian mothers so they will get out into the streets to protest. Information from trusted sources will be believed and it will eventually shatter the thin wall of lies shielding Russians from the truth.
Russian disinformation like all disinformation requires a suspension of reliance on robust factual support. Where is the evidence of what the Russians falsely claim Ukrainians are doing? Where are the grainy, cell phone videos that prove what the Russians allege? Why is it that the only permissible press in Russia today is the Russian press? Why is that? Eventually Russians who watch state TV should start to question and wonder why their government has limited their access to information and why so many Russians are in mourning over the loss of their sons who were killed in Ukraine. Why were so many killed if Ukrainians wanted to join Russia? Eventually Russians who support Putin will wonder why the war is taking so long if the Ukrainian people really welcomed Russian forces with open arms and bouquets of flowers. Eventually, you would think, some of the devastation being wrought by their neighboring country will leak through the thin wall separating their world of disinformation from the world of truth.
A little Ukrainian girl on a viral You Tube video sang Let It Go from Frozen from inside a bunker as Russians bombed her city in Ukraine. She was able to escape and get to safety where she was asked to sing the Ukrainian national anthem at a benefit for Ukraine that raised millions of dollars to help her country. An audience estimated to be 20,000 people lit their cell phones and waved them in support of Ukraine as she sang her country’s national anthem. That beautiful moment is all over social media and cable tv today. The power of love is much stronger than the power of hate. As Huey Lewis and the News said in their hit song, The Power of Love:
It don’t take money, don’t take fame
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
Tougher than diamonds and stronger than steel
You won’t feel nothin’ ’til you feel
You feel the power, feel the power of love
That’s what the Ukrainians feel- the power of love for their wives, husbands and children, their parents, their history, their homeland and for their democracy. That’s why they can pull together to fight as they do. And that’s why Putin might raise a Russian flag over a city in Ukraine but he will never win this war.