Five days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seems things haven’t gone exactly as planned for Vladimir Putin so far.
Western intelligence officials repeatedly reported over the weekend that Russian forces have met “tougher-than-expected” resistance from an outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian army.
So far, Russia has failed to seize key cities in Ukraine, including the capital Kiev. On Sunday, Ukrainian forces successfully repelled a Russian advance on a strategic airfield near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which has been under almost constant attack.
In addition to a fierce response from Ukrainian forces and civilians, the Russian invasion has suffered from logistical challenges, with soldiers on the front lines running out of fuel, ammunition and food.
“They are having problems,” a NATO official said of the Russian forces, pointing to the latest intelligence from the alliance. “They’re short on diesel, they’re going too slow and morale is obviously an issue.”
But a senior US defense official told reporters on Sunday that Russia has only used two-thirds of the total combat power applied to the mission, leaving a significant number of forces available to drive the offensive.
And on Monday, a miles-long convoy of Russian military vehicles was heading towards the Ukrainian capital, while intelligence from Kiev also suggests that Belarus is poised to join the Russian invasion, according to a Ukrainian official.
Representatives from Ukraine and Russia met on Monday at the border with Belarus. In those talks, Ukraine will insist on an “immediate ceasefire” and the withdrawal of Russian troops, although, realistically, no one expects that to happen.
Putin, it seems, has not only misjudged Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, but also how hard a line the international community would take against Russia in the event of an invasion.
For years, the Russian president has faced little opposition from the West over his illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, his brutal support for the Syrian regime and acts of aggression in other countries.
For all their strong words condemning Putin and his regime, Western countries still bought gas from Russia, offered a safe haven to Russian oligarchs, and maintained relatively normal diplomatic relations with Moscow.
But this time, despite some early rocky patches that saw Western nations accused of not hitting Russia hard enough, Putin has faced an unusually close-knit Western alliance.
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