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Russia’s Blitzkrieg has become Blitzfail. Conclusions from the first days of the war

Just four days have passed since the beginning of the active phase of war. Yet, we can already sum up some conclusions.

February 28, 2022 - Valerii Pekar - UkraineAtWar

Photo: Seneline/Shutterstock

1. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not motivated by any reasons except for the pathological hatred of the dictator and his intimidated entourage towards Ukraine. Russian leaders do not recognize the country’s right to exist. Talks about “defending Donbas”, “the threat of NATO”, “the Nazi junta holding the Ukrainian people hostage”, etc. do not stand up to any criticism (if they are defending Donbas, why strike cities hundreds of miles away from that region?). In fact, the Ukrainian War of Independence turned into a war for survival. Of note is also the position of Belarus, which voluntarily became a hostage to the Russian Federation and an accomplice to its crimes.

2. The leaders of the Russian Federation got caught up in their own propaganda myths. They kept repeating these myths for so long that they forgot the truth and started believing in their own lies. Moreover, everyone around the crazy dictator is afraid of telling the truth. The expertise on the “Ukrainian issue” is minimal, as they assume they already understand everything about Ukraine. The myths about “one nation”, “miserable Ukraine”, “failed state”, “Nazi junta”, etc. created a picture of a poor tortured country, whose inhabitants mostly identify themselves as Russians (or former Soviet people). Still, supposedly a small group of nationalists illegitimately imposed their rule on them, so they have long dreamed of freeing themselves and reuniting with Russia. This distorted picture was accepted not only by Russian citizens but also by the authors themselves, namely the leaders of the Russian Federation. Having a distorted picture will inevitably face grand surprises and disappointments. This is precisely what happened to the military and political leadership of the Russian Federation.

3. Based on their picture of the world, the Russian leaders have developed a strategy of “Blitzkrieg”, a short victorious war (it is no coincidence that the war began in the early morning with a heavy airstrike on Kyiv, just as in 1941). This strategy was as follows: concentrate almost all its battle-worthy forces around Ukraine (even bringing them from the Far East), suddenly attack Ukraine with all its forces from all sides, suppress Ukrainian defence, capture key cities, seize the capital and force Ukrainian leaders to capitulate or, if the latter fails, replace the administration by force with a puppet one. Since 1918, this scenario has been known in Ukraine and was successfully tested in several Central and Eastern European countries in 1939-1945 and also unsuccessfully used in Finland.

4. Two things completely destroyed this Russian scenario. Firstly, the heroism, resilience and high morale of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as well as the Security Service of Ukraine, the National Guard, the National Police, the Border Guard Service and others. Secondly, the resilience and dedication of millions of citizens, who join the Territorial Defence Forces, help the army as volunteers or simply refuse to succumb to panic and despair. It is hard to say what comes first and what comes second: the resilience of the citizens was based on their faith in the Armed Forces, while the resilience of the military was based on the nationwide support of citizens. All Ukrainians have witnessed how the Armed Forces transformed over eight years of war; now, it is a highly motivated, battle-hardened and radically better equipped army.

5. The whole nation rallied around the key values ​​of Ukrainians: freedom, self-sufficiency, social cohesion, mutual support and assistance, self-organisation, volunteering, a sense of humour. But it’s the first time we see some things that never appeared before: (1) political unity and absence of strife among politicians and among citizens; (2) public support of state institutions and trust in them. These mark a transition of Ukrainian society to a new, more mature level. A significant indicator here is honouring each hero and mourning for each victim, especially in contrast to Russia’s concealment of truth about losses.

6. It is essential to note the stability of the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian business. Ukraine’s political and military leadership has shown impressive resilience and strength. Ukrainian businesses have rallied again to help the country while ensuring unprecedented stability: retailers, banks, mobile carriers, utilities, and transport are running smoothly. Special thanks go to the journalists for their round-the-clock work on coverage and fight against panic.

7. War usually begins with a massive strike with the best forces to make the most of the effect of surprise. Then reserves are introduced where the best progress has been made. So far, Blitzkrieg has become Blitzfail. Such a rapid defeat of the main strike groups was expected neither in Russia nor in the West (even the Ukrainians were surprised by their results). Desperate attempts to break into the city centres by special forces groups and criminal shelling of residential areas indicate the failure of the original strategy. The simultaneous attack from all sides strengthened the unity of the Ukrainian nation, as resistance to aggression instantly became a nationwide cause.

8. Successes of Ukrainian Armed Forces have laid the groundwork for the victories of Ukrainian diplomacy (notably, with strong support of some western leaders and the Ukrainian diaspora as well as with massive solidarity of many other nations). Governments of friendly and not so friendly states have started with cautious, limited sanctions and widely ranging statements and now are one-upping each other by approving tough measures that seemed impossible just the day before. Assistance with modern weapons and intelligence is of great importance. Thus, a powerful anti-Putin coalition is being created to prove to the world that the international order still exists, that the democratic world is strong enough to defend its values, and that values ​​prevail over commercial interests.

9. Ukraine suddenly has become a subject of international affairs. We do not hide the fact that many world leaders expected a quick capitulation from Ukraine. The resilience of the Armed Forces and Ukrainian society has caused the world to look at Ukraine more closely and with more respect. It is unlikely that anyone will now continue to believe that Ukraine is a part of Russia, as it was recently. I am sure many will now remember that Kyiv is not Kiev. There have been political statements about the immediate granting of candidate status to Ukraine with the prospect of joining the European Union (albeit single messages, but this is already is a turning point). There has been significant progress in co-operation with NATO: practical familiarity with armaments, close collaboration in the field of reconnaissance, gaining extremely substantial combat experience.

10. Ukrainian resistance significantly changes the world balance of power and the world order, showing Russia’s proper place in the world system. The current world order is a decades-old system of international security, broken by authoritarian regimes’ unhindered use of force. Ukraine is reviving faith in the inviolability of borders, faith in the impossibility of “zones of influence” in the era of sovereign states. Ukraine is putting the issue of choosing between values ​​and interests, a difficult choice that some politicians have to make, back on the agenda. Ukrainian resistance forces us to reconsider the idea of ​​the power of democracy against dictatorship, the power of civil society against authoritarian states, the power of horizontal network systems against hierarchically centralized ones. The values ​​that Ukrainians are now defending resonate with people all over the world and we inspire them by how we are doing it.

11. At the same time, the final victory is still far away. Russia still has enough forces and a certain choice of strategic steps, and the enraged Russian dictator is capable of unheard-of crimes. It is crucial to maintain resilience and unity for a long time. It is not a sprint, but a marathon, as Russia has resources for a long-term confrontation despite our initial successes. The worst may be yet to come. Without winning the manoeuvre operation, Russia may resort to the familiar scorched earth tactics tested in Chechnya and Syria where civilian casualties are not considered. However, this is a subject for a separate article on scenario analysis. Now, the main thing is not to succumb to euphoria, not to expect a quick final victory.

12. The goal of war is a peace that is better than the previous one. For Ukraine, such a peace means more than just the return of the occupied people and territories and the criminal prosecution of Russian leaders under international law, since that would simply be a return to the pre-war state. For Ukraine, victory means the disappearance of the constant existential threat from Russia, either through Ukraine’s accession to NATO or through fundamental political changes to democracy in Russia itself. “Reconciliation”, i.e. returning to the frozen war of the last years, would only give Russia time to better prepare for the next stage of aggression, taking into account its mistakes made during the first stage. This is unacceptable.

We are witnessing an extraordinary acceleration of time. In four days, an entire era has passed. The density of events makes it problematic to see the big picture, but we have to keep the wide frame.

Valerii Pekar is a co-founder of the Nova Kraina Civic Platform, a lecturer at the Kyiv-Mohyla Business School and a former member of the National Reform Council.

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