It has been a week since Russia began its formal invasion of Ukraine. It’s initial assault has been marred by supply line issues, poor tactics, bad optics, and the stiff resistance of the people of Ukraine. In fact, the assault has been blunted in many ways, gaining little ground even in the Donbas region where Russian sympathy is thought to be strongest. The convoy outside of Kyiv remains the traffic jam from hell as it stretches from Belarus to just outside Kyiv. Kyiv and Kharkiv continue to hold fast against the invaders, while the city of Kherson has been taken.
How did this all happen? Presumptuousness, probably. They didn’t take a strong resistance into account. Light-to-no use of the Russian air force early on failed to secure air superiority over the country, while Ukrainian forces have been wreaking havoc on Russia’s supply lines. It could be assumed they thought they could waltz into Ukraine with minimal collateral damage as was done in 2014. Fighting in the south reflects this to some degree, with the Russian army being able to secure bridgeheads on the Dnieper river (the longest river in Ukraine). The aforementioned captured city of Kherson is a major port city on the river and could prove important in Russia’s strategy going forward.
As Russian forces work on adjusting their plans, it’s important to remember that all of this may be temporary. The Russian air force is more in play now and have begun using cluster munitions as well as thermobaric weapons. The situation is not great for Ukraine especially as Russia begins to sort itself out. This is an excellent thread to follow on the state of play and it appears it will continue to update as the situation changes.
Meanwhile, we’re continuing to find out about how much China knew about Russia’s plans. Western intelligence reports indicate that there were high level interactions between Chinese and Russian officials concerning Russia’s plans for an invasion of Ukraine and to not invade before the end of the Olympics. And well hey, Putin moved troops into an insurgent-controlled area of eastern Ukraine the very day after the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. China’s feathers were ruffled in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia during the Summer Olympics in Beijing, apropos of nothing. It also provides us a little more context to Xi and Putin’s February 4th statement that there was “no limits” on their partnership while they denounced NATO enlargement and sought to create a “new world order”.
So, this is where we’re at. Russia has cast its iron dice in Ukraine and while things have been shaky, there’s nothing saying they won’t be able to turn things around. Also, China’s informal economic and diplomatic embrace of Russia is becoming decidedly less and less informal. I’m reminded of China’s non-response to Ukraine, saying something along the lines of respecting territorial integrity. Do they support Ukraine? Nah, it’s just them re-affirming their stance on Taiwan. It appears that we’re at a point where autocrats are testing the strengths of military alliances. Fun times.
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