It was supposed to be a walkover, a slam dunk, a laydown, David vs Goliath Part II. Russia had amassed some 200,000 troops at the Ukraine border. These troops were supported by a veritable cornucopia of weapons including, among others, planes, tanks and missiles. Most observers assumed they would roll through Ukraine in a matter of days or weeks like the Germans had rolled through Poland in 1939. They would be welcomed by the Ukrainians as liberators; they would capture Kiev in short order; they would assassinate or capture President Volodymyr Zelensky, his family and other key political leaders; they would install a “puppet” government; and the US, NATO, and the rest of the world would protest but otherwise wring their hands and stay on the sidelines. Biden was too timid, NATO was a disorganized “paper tiger” afraid of losing access to Russian oil; and Ukraine was not willing or able to offer much resistance. Ukraine would be another notch in Putin’s belt, another step on his way to restoring the post-WWII Soviet Union. Next stop, the Baltics, then maybe Poland, Romania, and the rest of Eastern Europe.
But, here we are 10 days into the invasion, and things have not exactly gone Russia’s way. Surprise! Surprise! The Ukrainians did not welcome the Russians. Quite the opposite. They are fighting them “tooth and nail.” For example, according to multiple media reports:
1. The Ukrainian government has not fallen and remains as strong as ever. Furthermore, contrary to what other heads of state have done in similar circumstances Zelensky has not fled the country, nor does he intend to. Not only has he stayed but his family and other key officials have as well. This is despite the reports that Russia has deployed some 4,000 mercenaries to assassinate Zelensky, his family, and other key government officials. When offered to be evacuated he defiantly replied “I don’t need a ride; I need more ammunition!” His bravery has been an inspiration to both his countrymen and to the world. Nevertheless the EU reported that in excess of 500,000 refugees have already fled the country and before all is said and done the total could exceed four million.
2. As I write this Russia has not been able to capture any major cities, nor has it been able to gain control of the airspace despite the fact that it was thought to be one of Ukraine’s major weaknesses. In a show of solidarity weapons are flowing in from various countries.
3. Many observers have noted that Russia has not yet unleashed its full arsenal of weaponry. Perhaps, it wanted to avoid massive devastation, because it wanted to occupy the country afterwards. There are indications that may change. Douglas Lute, a former US ambassador to NATO, cautioned that Russia has ” a lot… of weapons not employed yet.” Unleashing them would shorten the shooting war, but it would damage Russia further in the world of public opinion.
4. Various media outlets have disclosed the presence of a Russian army convoy 40 miles long that is converging on Kiev. If it were to arrive intact the potential havoc it could wreak would be devastating.
5. Since the inception of the invasion Russia has dropped over 100 cruise missiles on Ukraine. That sounds like a lot, but I have to believe there are many more where they came from.
6. There are reports that they have used cluster bombs on Karkiv. These are so deadly and kill so indiscriminately that their use has been banned by many countries, and some people consider their use to constitute a war crime.
7. There have been reports of Ukrainians attacking Russian troops and tanks with only Molotov cocktails for weapons. NYT correspondent Valerie Hopkins reported that some of them have even “tried to repel Russian tanks with their bodies” to no avail.
8. One Ukrainian was shown removing a land mine from a bridge with his bare hands while smoking a cigarette. He was not trained in bomb disposal, and he was not wearing any protective equipment. Brave or foolhardy? Take your pick.
9. A Ukrainian brewery has stopped brewing beer and commenced using the bottles for Molotov cocktails.
10. In a somewhat humorous story in Spain, in protest of the invasion, a Ukrainian was arrested for attempting to sink a $27 million yacht belonging to his boss, a Russian oligarch.
11. It has been reported that the members of the Snake Island garrison are alive and being held in a Russian prison facility. You may recall that a few days ago when a Russian warship demanded their surrender they defiantly replied “Go f**k yourself!” The ship proceeded to destroy the facility, but apparently the people survived.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world has united against Russia to a degree that we have rarely seen.
1. The US and other countries have imposed very strict sanctions designed to hurt Russia and its people financially, economically and emotionally. For instance, the Russian banks’ assets, and those of various influential oligarchs, have been frozen. Even the Swiss, who have always remained neutral in any conflict, have joined in. It should be noted that so far energy has been exempt from sanctions.
2. Russia’s banks have been locked out of the S.W.I.FT. financial system, a devastating blow, which effectively precludes them from effecting transactions internationally. Bruno Lemaire, the French Finance Minister, called this the “financial nuclear option.” The various financial sanctions have been effective. The ruble has declined to the point where it is worth one US penny; the Russian stock market “crashed” and trading has been suspended; and there have been “runs” on Russian banks as depositors have been desperately trying to withdraw their money.
3. The sanctions are having a devastating effect of the Russian people, and it will only get worse. They can’t get their savings; food and other necessities are scarce; and inflation is running wild. Signs of post-WWI Germany and present-day Venezuela. How long can they take it? We have already seen protests, which is most unusual in Russia.
One can debate the effectiveness of the sanctions. There has been some impact as I have discussed above, but it would have been better if Biden would have acted sooner and more forcefully. In addition, as I blogged last week Biden should have ceased buying oil from Russia and reopened the Keystone Pipeline. His impulsive and ill-advised decision to shut it down remains one of the most inane decisions of his presidency, and God knows there have been plenty of them. As it stands, by buying oil from Russia we are, in effect, helping to finance the invasion.
The invasion has not been kind to President Biden, politically. According to a CNN poll released yesterday 58% of those queried disapprove of the manner in which he has been handling it. That percentage is likely to increase as the inflationary impact takes hold on everyday Americans. Unfortunately, as always, the poor and working class people will suffer the most. Let’s hope they remember that in November.
No one knows what is going to happen, and anyone who says they do is either delusional or lying. The possibilities range from outright Russian withdrawal to nuclear war with many possible outcomes in between. Remember, Putin is a disciple of Josef Stalin’s. He is very aggressive, and, at the moment, he senses weakness and vulnerability in the leaders of the US and NATO. His ultimate goal is to resurrect the post-WWII Soviet Union, and he thinks this is the time to do it. The invasion of Ukraine is but one piece of that strategy and should be viewed in that context.