Russian forces in Ukraine are largely stalled outside all major cities after 20 days of fighting, raising the possibility the invasion may collapse and end in defeat for Vladimir Putin.
“Russia is heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine,” wrote Francis Fukuyama, an author and highly regarded political scientist, in a stunning prediction.
The implications for Putin are stark and forboding.
“Putin will not survive the defeat of his army. He gets support because he is perceived to be a strongman; what does he have to offer once he demonstrates incompetence and is stripped of his coercive power?”
The Russian President, who launched the attack Feb. 24 confident that Ukrainian forces would collapse in a matter of days, is reportedly disturbed by the lack of progress. But the fault rests with him for failing to take into account a number of factors.
“Russian planning was incompetent, based on a flawed assumption that Ukrainians were favorable to Russia and that their military would collapse immediately following an invasion,” he continued.
“Putin at this point has committed the bulk of his entire military to this operation—there are no vast reserves of forces he can call up to add to the battle. Russian troops are stuck outside various Ukrainian cities where they face huge supply problems and constant Ukrainian attacks.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is turing into a brutal war of attrition. If the offensive collapses, it “could be sudden and catastrophic rather than happening slowly through a war of attrition,” he writes.
“The army in the field will reach a point where it can neither be supplied nor withdrawn, and morale will vaporize. This is at least true in the north; the Russians are doing better in the south, but those positions would be hard to maintain if the north collapses.”
Fukuyama acknowledged he was sticking “my neck out” to make such prognostications, but in the days since it was published signs suggest Russia is waivering.
Despite pressing its offensive in Kyiv and other major cities, Russian forces have made virtually no progress.
Instead, it’s been largely limited to conducting a terror campaign by shelling civilian areas and hitting hospitals, schools and other non-military targets.
Russia attacked a base in western Ukraine over the weekend using cruise missiles fired from long-range bombers inside Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said on Monday, adding that Moscow’s advance remained largely stalled elsewhere.
Although the terror attacks have killed or injuried thousands of civilians, the fighting around the cities remains intense and Russian casualities are mounting.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims more than 12,000 Russian troops have been killed and hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment have been destroyed.
At last count, 77 jets, 90 helicopters, 389 tanks, 1249 armored personnel carriers, 150 artillery pieces and 677 vehicles have been lost by Russian forces. The numbers could not be verified, but experts say losses have still been extensive.
In addition, Ukraine’s air defenses appear to be stiffening and the skies over the country are still contested.
The battlefield tally was bolstered by a U.S. intelligence report that Putin had appealed to China for military equipment and other aid to continue the fight. The Kremlin quickly denied the report.
On the downside, Fukuyama, a Stanford University professor, writes that he sees “no diplomatic solution to the war… prior to Russia’s army collapse.
“There is no conceivable compromise that would be acceptable to both Russia and Ukraine given the losses they have taken at this point,” he explains.
“The only thing that will stop the slaughter is defeat of the Russian army on the ground.”
The United States, the European Union and other countries have imposed harsh sanctions on Russia that have disrupted its banking system, shuttered its stock market and driven the exchange rate to less than a penny per Ruble.
A coiterie of Russian oligarchs surrounding Putin are also facing sanctions and the loss of overseas holdings, including luxury yachts, mansions and other assets.
Fukuyama published his analysis Mar. 11 in American Purpose, a web magazind dedicated to promoting democracy.
But others say a true picture of the war is difficult to assess. Ukraine has released virtually no information on its losses outside of a casualty figure for its soldiers. It reported 1,300 dead so far.
Ukraine has also flooded social media with sometimes dramatic videos and images showing Russian losses and generally upbeat images and videos of its soldiers.
Despite reports of food, ammunition and fuel shortages, Russian forces have continued to pummel population centers with a steady bombardment from the air and artillery and rockets on the ground.
But Fukuyama’s predictions end on an upbeat note.
“A Russian defeat will make possible a ‘new birth of freedom,’ and get us out of our funk about the declining state of global democracy. The spirit of 1989 will live on, thanks to a bunch of brave Ukrainians,” he writes.