To me one of the strangest things about the war in Ukraine has been the hopeless defeatism of many western "experts", which has been reflected in the media. From day one we have been told, over and over, that the Russians' overwhelming military advantage means they are bound to win in the end – "win" here meaning take Ukraine's cities and overthrow its government. Consider this, from the commanding general of the US Marine Corps:
If one were to run a virtual wargame knowing how Russian forces were postured and understanding their capabilities, the computer model would have said Russia would be victorious in a matter of 72 to 96 hours.
Here's one I just found on Twitter:
At some point, we will have to stop encouraging Ukraine to continue fighting a losing battle. . . . Putin will continue attacking until Ukraine ceases to exist.
Meanwhile, here is part of the Institute for the Study of War's situation update for today, March 11:
Russian ground forces attempting to encircle and take Kyiv began another pause to resupply and refit combat units on March 11 after failed attacks March 8-10. Russian forces also appear to be largely stalemated around Kharkiv. Russian advances from Crimea toward Mykolayiv and Zaporizhya and in the east around Donetsk and Luhansk made no progress in the last 24 hours, and Russian forces in the south face growing morale and supply issues. . . . Uncoordinated and sporadic Russian offensive operations against major Ukrainian cities support the Ukrainian General Staff’s assessment that Russian forces face growing morale and supply issues and have lost the initiative.
The Kremlin likely seeks to increase its combat power by drawing Belarus into the war and leveraging Syrian proxies, in addition to ongoing efforts to directly replace Russian combat losses through individual conscripts that are unlikely to be well-enough trained or motivated to generate effective new combat power. Putin is reportedly conducting an internal purge of general offers and intelligence personnel and recalibrating Russia’s war effort to sustain combat operations far longer than the Kremlin initially planned. Russia likely requires a new wave of combat-effective reservists or recruits in a short period of time to achieve its objectives in Ukraine but is unlikely to be able to generate such a wave.
I am not saying Ukraine is winning; as I have said repeatedly, I cannot tell who is winning, because I see very mixed signals. But anyone who thinks the Russians are "overwhelming" Ukraine is not paying attention. I don't even understand where this notion came from that Russia's forces have an overwhelming advantage. Sure, Russia has a much bigger army, but if you just count the forces in Ukraine, Ukraine has more troops on the battlefield. Ukraine has also been at war continuously since 2014, and they require all the conscripts that pass through their army to spend some time on the front lines. A higher percentage of Ukrainian troops had seen combat when the invasion started. Manning a trench and dodging the occasional mortar round is not like repelling an assault by a battalion of T-90 tanks, but in war even a little experience under fire gives veterans an advantage. It is certainly true that the Russian army in Ukraine has more tanks, but especially in the north they are not proving to be decisive. The Ukrainians have destroyed at least 200 of the 1200 or so tanks in the invading force. The Russians have a lot more aircraft, but they have been very reluctant to use them.
The one thing Russia clearly has more of is artillery, and they may end up pounding many Ukrainian cities to rubble. But that won't win the war.
The event that made me think this would be no easy victory for Russia was the failure of their airborne assault on Kyiv on the first night of the war. Their "elite" airborne troops landed as planned at Hostomel airport, but the Ukrainians drove them off. This would, I decided then, be no US-invasion-of-Panama cakewalk.
So why the relentless negativity? George Orwell once wrote that during World War II Britain's educated elite was always more defeatist than the masses; some of the elite, he said, went on being defeatist long after the war had obviously been won. He ascribed some of this to imagination. If you knew enough to understand what would be involved in defeating the Nazis, and could imagine what it would be like to live through that, it might just be easier to anticipate a swift defeat.
I wonder if this is at play in western reactions to the war in Ukraine. A swift Russian victory would have avoided the horror of the war we see unfolding before us: the thousands dead, the cities destroyed, the world economy teetering, the looming threat of escalation. The longer the fighting goes on, the greater the chance that Ukraine will emerge as an independent nation; but the longer the fighting goes on, the more will be lost, and the greater the chance that this will spiral into a European conflagration.