The evidence that Ukraine is winning this war is abundant, if one only looks closely at the available data. The absence of Russian progress on the front lines is just half the picture, obscured though it is by maps showing big red blobs, which reflect not what the Russians control but the areas through which they have driven. The failure of almost all of Russia’s airborne assaults, its inability to destroy the Ukrainian air force and air-defense system, and the weeks-long paralysis of the 40-mile supply column north of Kyiv are suggestive. Russian losses are staggering—between 7,000 and 14,000 soldiers dead, depending on your source, which implies (using a low-end rule of thumb about the ratios of such things) a minimum of nearly 30,000 taken off the battlefield by wounds, capture, or disappearance. Such a total would represent at least 15 percent of the entire invading force, enough to render most units combat ineffective. And there is no reason to think that the rate of loss is abating—in fact, Western intelligence agencies are briefing unsustainable Russian casualty rates of a thousand a day.
Add to this the repeated tactical blundering visible on videos even to amateurs: vehicles bunched up on roads, no infantry covering the flanks, no closely coordinated artillery fire, no overhead support from helicopters, and panicky reactions to ambushes. The 1-to-1 ratio of vehicles destroyed to those captured or abandoned bespeaks an army that is unwilling to fight. Russia’s inability to concentrate its forces on one or two axes of attack, or to take a major city, is striking. So, too, are its massive problems in logistics and maintenance, carefully analyzed by technically qualified observers.
The Russian army has committed well more than half its combat forces to the fight. Behind those forces stands very little. Russian reserves have no training to speak of (unlike the U.S. National Guard or Israeli or Finnish reservists), and Putin has vowed that the next wave of conscripts will not be sent over, although he is unlikely to abide by that promise. The swaggering Chechen auxiliaries have been hit badly, and in any case are not used to, or available for, combined-arms operations. Domestic discontent has been suppressed, but bubbles up as brave individuals protest and hundreds of thousands of tech-savvy young people flee.
If Russia is engaging in cyberwar, that is not particularly evident. Russia’s electronic-warfare units have not shut down Ukrainian communications. Half a dozen generals have gotten themselves killed either by poor signal security or trying desperately to unstick things on the front lines. And then there are the negative indicators on the other side—no Ukrainian capitulations, no notable panics or unit collapses, and precious few local quislings, while the bigger Russophilic fish, such as the politician Viktor Medvedchuk, are wisely staying quiet or out of the country. And reports have emerged of local Ukrainian counterattacks and Russian withdrawals.
The coverage has not always emphasized these trends. As the University of St. Andrews’s Phillips P. O’Brien has argued, pictures of shattered hospitals, dead children, and blasted apartment blocks accurately convey the terror and brutality of this war, but they do not convey its military realities. To put it most starkly: If the Russians level a town and slaughter its civilians, they are unlikely to have killed off its defenders, who will do extraordinary and effective things from the rubble to avenge themselves on the invaders. That is, after all, what the Russians did in their cities to the Germans 80 years ago. More sober journalism—The Wall Street Journal has been a standout in this respect—has been analytic, offering detailed reporting on revealing battles, like the annihilation of a Russian battalion tactical group in Voznesensk. [Continue reading…]