Many friends and colleagues have asked me: “Will the Russian invasion of Ukraine fail?”
My answer is that it depends on what we consider its goals to be: the very narrow goal of taking over Luhansk Oblast and most of Donetsk Oblast might still be met. There is also the whole stretch of territory running west from Donetsk to Kherson. Russian forces might keep a fair amount of that.
I do not expect them to keep the part of Kherson Oblast north of the Dnipro River in the long run. They are too exposed there, given that Ukrainian forces can destroy all the river crossings.
In a larger sense, the war was doomed from the day Ukrainians repelled the attack on Kyiv, and a swift and effective Ukrainian counteroffensive has over the past few weeks further aggregated problems for Russian President Vladimir Putin, militarily and politically.
Once Russian troops were no longer able to take all of Ukraine, they had inadvertently created a hostile state right in the heart of historic Russia — a state not only hostile to them, but also Western-oriented; a state not just democratic, something Russians cannot seem to get the hang of, but maybe even fairly non-corrupt, although that remains to be seen.
More defeats are likely awaiting the Russian army, even though in the long run it can be expected to be a protracted war.
Russia simply does not have the military strength to defend a 1,000km front line. Too much of it would be thinly defended, or held by second and third-rate troops such as the Russian National Guard, and conscripts from Donetsk and Luhansk.
Of greater concern to Russia must be the artillery situation. Russian advances were completely dependent on overwhelming superiority in artillery, but Moscow has lost a fair amount of that advantage.
In particular, the GPS-guided long-range artillery the US is sending to Ukraine must have Russian troops terrified.
That said, Russians have long experience with rebounding from military catastrophes.
At minimum, we will end up with a frozen conflict, where Russia controls most of Donetsk and Luhansk, and a lot of the Mariupol-Meletopol corridor north of the Sea of Azov.
To summarize, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy might not be able to concede to official Russian control of any pre-2014 Ukrainian territory, and Putin might not be able to give it back.
In conclusion, the invasion has failed, Putin has got himself lost in the long grass, but a political and military stalemate is awaiting.
Harvard University sociologist and political scientist Theda Skocpol has said that it was a weak state’s failed military campaigns abroad that caused the domestic implosion of the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as Russian empires.
A weak state invites foreign missteps and that triggers the chain reaction.
Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) need to learn from this historical lesson.
Simon Tang is an adjunct professor at California State University, Fullerton.
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