From our correspondent in the United States,
Nothing is going as planned for Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. The Russian president, according to the CIA, was convinced that his “special military operation” would allow him to conquer Kiev in 48 hours and quickly behead the Ukrainian government. But a month after the start of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian forces are doing more than resisting: for two days, they have been conducting sporadic counter-offensives around their capital. And although nothing is won for Volodymyr Zelensky, “the dynamics are reversed”, estimate for 20 minutes retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commander of US forces in Europe. A look back at four weeks of conflict.
February 24 – March 4: Shock and awe
On February 24, Vladimir Putin is betting on a blitzkrieg. At the end of the night, a deluge of bombs and cruise missiles fell over fifteen Ukrainian cities, including Lviv, near the Polish border. From the first hours, a decisive battle is played out in Hostomel, in the northwestern suburbs of Kiev, for control of Antonov airport. Russian helicopters and Spetsnaz special forces only take control of it in the morning.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, Moscow is then launching 18 IL-76 military transport planes capable of transporting a total of 2,000 paratroopers. Who could then have participated in the attack on Kiev, 30 km away. But the 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade from the Ukrainian National Guard arrives as reinforcements with artillery units. And manages to resist enough for Moscow to abandon its project, it says Wall Street Journal. If the Russian army ends up securing the airport after 48 hours, the Ukrainian defense minister assures that the runway has been too damaged to be used by Moscow for an airlift.
In the rest of the country, Russian forces are advancing mainly in the east, in the Donbass and in the south. The port city of Kherson falls on 2 March. But Kharkiv in the north is resisting. On the night of the 3rd to the 4th, a Russian shot hit the nuclear power plant in Zaporijjia. International leaders are stepping up.
March 5-21: Stalling and siege of Mariupol
After almost two weeks of conflict, the Russian machine begins to show its limits. The siege of Kiev, announced as imminent, does not end. A giant military convoy 60 km long remains blocked for more than a week, paralyzed by logistics and supply problems. Ben Hodges, who praises the Ukrainian opposition, beats Putin: “It is a spectacular failure at all levels. Russia has far from manpower or capacity to achieve its goals. »
In full stalemate, the leader of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, fears that “the worst thing is to come up with a siege war (…) as in Aleppo or Grozny”. Or in Mariupol. In this strategic port of the besieged mother in Azov, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating, with more than 200,000 civilians waiting to be evacuated. About half end up through humanitarian corridors despite Russian violations. On March 9, a Russian strike hit a maternity ward, leaving three dead and 17 wounded, according to Kyiv. A week later, the city theater was partially destroyed.
Now Russian ships stationed in the Sea of Azov are taking part in the strikes. Melinda Haring, deputy director of the Center for Eurasia at the Atlantic Council, an influential American think tank, recalls Mariupol’s strategic importance: conquering the city would make it possible to “connect the occupied Donbass and southern Ukraine”. Enough to offer Moscow a “direct land bridge between Russia and Crimea”.
March 22-24: The Ukrainian counter-offensives
For 48 hours, the Ukrainian forces claim to have taken over several cities or strategic suburbs. If the complete reconquest of Marakiv, west of Kiev, was denied by the mayor, the Russian army withdrew 30 km, on Wednesday east of Kiev, says the Pentagon. According to whom Russia “digs in and establishes defensive positions” to protect its gains.
West of Kiev “we may be seeing the Russian forces surrounded, which would be a great victory” for Kiev, retired General Ben Hodges analyzes. Which reminds us that it is crucial to keep the supply routes open in order to provide humanitarian – and especially military – aid from the West.
The sequel: War of Exhaustion and the Unknown Putin
Ben Hodges warns: “Ukrainian civilians will continue to be killed”. The retired American general called for “a real airlift,” as in Berlin in 1948, to deliver the promised equipment as quickly as possible. U.S. kamikaze drones, Stinger-man portable ground-to-air missiles, Javelin anti-tank missile launchers, and Soviet S-300 long-range anti-missile systems, as Kyiv claims.
Russia will have to deal with climatic conditions, with the thawing and sludge season, as well as the flooding of the Irpin River near Kiev. For the Pentagon, we have now entered into a “war of attrition,” which could last. How long ? It will all depend on when Vladimir Putin decides that the conflict has become too costly economically in the light of Western sanctions and politically in the light of Russian losses. Volodymyr Zelensky, he said he was prepared to give up NATO membership in return for “real security guarantees”, and open to a compromise on Donbass status, on condition that a referendum be presented.
Faced with these variables, Melinda Haring does not rule out that the war will continue for “two or three months”. With the fear, expressed by Joe Biden, of a chemical attack or the use of a “tactical nuclear weapon” by Putin. The Atlantic Council expert believes in the first, less in the second. According to New York Times, However, Joe Biden has formed a special team called the “Tiger team”. Its role: to prepare the American response to a worst-case scenario. With a question currently unanswered: what would be the red line, other than an attack on one of the member states, that would justify NATO’s entry into the conflict?
Russian losses: up to 40,000 soldiers killed, wounded or captured
According to NATO officials, between 7,000 and 15,000 members of the Russian army have died since the beginning of the invasion. In all, the Atlantic Alliance estimates that between 30,000 and 40,000 Russian soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or missing. This would represent between 15 and 20% of the forces deployed by Moscow – 150,000 soldiers plus 40,000 separatists from Donbass. On Tuesday, the Pentagon had presented an estimate – lower – of a 10% reduction in combat capability.
In an ultra-central army, the Russian General Staff appears to be decimated. Kyiv claims to have killed five generals from Moscow, which would represent almost a quarter of those present in Ukraine, in addition to a dozen commanders – figures which, however, have only been partially confirmed by independent sources.
On CNN, General Petraeus, former commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, explains this Russian failure: “Their command centers are collapsing. Their secure communications are not working. The Ukrainians are pitying them. They (the generals) are taking smartphones from Ukrainian civilians to make calls that become If a column stops, the generals will see in front of what is happening because no one is able to make a decision. And the Ukrainians have very good snipers who knock them out. “
For its offensive, Moscow uses Wagner’s mercenaries and has appealed to Syria. But so far, the Pentagon has not seen a massive supply of reinforcements. In Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko postpones, and Ben Hodges considers it “unlikely” that a few thousand more foreign troops can “change the game”.