The war in Ukraine isn’t going well for Russian President Vladimir Putin. More than seven months into the illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the Russian military is falling apart at the seams.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims to have killed more than 60,000 Russian troops and destroyed more than 10,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, fighter jets, and helicopters, among other materiel. These numbers are corroborated, to a certain extent, by independent open-source researchers.
Russian dreams of a blitzkrieg campaign that would topple the Ukrainian government in less than a week are long gone. Putin and the Kremlin are now faced with a war of attrition focused on eastern Ukraine and the Donbas. But the Russian military has already exhausted much of its fighting capabilities.
The situation is so bad that his own military commanders and intelligence officers are reportedly lying to him, according to the U.S. and U.K. intelligence communities.
Misguided and misinformed
According to the U.S. intelligence community, Putin is feeling misled by his military and security services. The invasion was based on the premise that the Ukrainian resistance would crumble under the pressure of the Russian military. Indeed, Moscow gambled on a war that would last 48 to 72 hours.
One of the commitments Putin made to the Russian people at the start of his “special military operation” was that only professional Russian soldiers were taking part in military operations and that conscripts weren’t fighting in Ukraine. (Russia has a national service and calls two classes of conscripts every year.) But according to Western intelligence reports, his own military commanders might have misled him on that. And by now, close to 60,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine and up to thrice that number wounded. Many of those were conscripts.
In addition, it looks like Putin was misinformed about the impact the Western sanctions were having on the Russian economy. Although Moscow receives about $850 million a day for natural gas, coal, and oil from European countries, the sanctions imposed on him, his close circle, the Russian government, financial institutions, and defense and technology sectors are taking a toll.
The Russian gross domestic product is set to contract by 15 percent within 2022. That would undo 15 years of economic growth. (The World Bank estimates the contraction at a smaller but still severe 4.5 percent.) More than 600 companies have left, suspended operations, or stopped investing in Russia.
“It increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people. He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanise. He under-played the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He over-estimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory. We’ve seen Russian soldiers – short of weapons and morale – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” Sir Jeremy Fleming, the director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said in a recent speech to the Australian National University.
The GCHQ is the signals intelligence agency of the United Kingdom and an equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).
What the GCHQ director said is confirmed by the U.S. intelligence community. It does seem that Putin did indeed get bad intelligence regarding Russian and Ukrainian military capabilities, and Ukrainian public opinion. The Russian invasion plan hinged on the support — or at least the acquiescence — of the Ukrainian populace. Fast forward more than 210 days, and the Russian military has been caught committing war crimes against that very same people.
Further, the Pentagon had stated earlier in the conflict that intelligence suggests that Putin hadn’t fully informed his own military about his intentions to invade Ukraine.
Sir Jeremy suggested that Putin’s own advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth about the situation on the ground. This, in return, is causing additional strategic and tactical misjudgments, which result in further military failures.
The regime of fear Putin has created is proving to be his own undoing.