Stalingrad Version 2.0
The first time I heard Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has garrisoned in Kyiv, I thought he was bluffing the Russians.
Why would he stay in the one place where Russians would be forced to come? Why would he allow himself to be surrounded by enemies in all directions without a means of escape?
And then it dawned on me: Only a leader who stays in frontlines can inspire his country to fight against an army led by a ruthless dictator.
There is historical evidence:
Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov, the Soviet military commander who led the 62nd Army during the Battle of Stalingrad in the Second World War.
“After two years of decisive victories over France, Poland and others, Hitler and the German High Command were confident that the Soviet Union would fall within six weeks”. But Chuikov had other ideas. To inspire his troops, he “kept his headquarters in the city, less than 200 meters from the German front line”.
For more than five months, the Soviet 62nd Army, brought the Nazis' sixth division to “a standstill on the banks of the Volga, always outnumbered by factors of up to 15 to one”.
Chuikov wrote the manual on urban warfare.
The Germans, used to fighting from a distance, didn’t know how to win the war of attrition in an urban setting. They reduced Stalingrad to rubble, but this only helped the Soviets mobilize against them.
The Soviets first stalled the German march. Then they kept squeezing the Nazis until they were worn out.
“Stalingrad marked the shift of initiative to the Red Army on the Eastern Front. There were no more decisive victories for the Wehrmacht in the east. Despite the importance of the battles of Moscow, Kursk, and Operation Bagration, it was Stalingrad that would be immortalized around the world as the turning of the tide for the Allies in World War II.”
Today, the roles are completely reversed. Russia is seeking swift victory with superior airpower, better equipment, and strength in numbers. Ukraine is defending its cities, forcing Russians into close combat, gaining time, and hoping to drain the Russians of strength.
- The Nazis lost because of Stalingrad.
- Putin is going to lose because of Kyiv.
- Russians will never take full control of Kyiv. Ever.
The Russian government is dumber than we thought
Just like the Nazis underestimated the Soviets during the second world war, the Russian military planners completely underestimated Ukraine’s resolve to fight.
Andrei Fedorov, former deputy Russian foreign minister, told Al Jazeera that President Vladimir Putin’s initial order was to “complete the military operation with a victory by March 2”.
The Russians had no plan whatsoever for a lengthy war.
In 2008, the Russians took just four days to take control of the situation in Georgia. They won the limited war because they had limited objectives. They wanted to break Georgia into three pieces. Two small regions for them. One big piece for Georgia.
“Russia used separatist violence as a convenient pretext to launch a full-scale multidomain invasion to annex territory.” Russians won because they had a clear understanding of what they wanted to do in Georgia and they laid the groundwork required to support their objective.
Military experts are still struggling to understand Russia’s objective in Ukraine. Are they trying to take the whole country or just a few cities, eliminate the Ukrainian leadership, or break the country into multiple pieces?
Russia’s highly centralized command structure, where all decisions are made by a small group of people including President Putin, is not helping Russian troops on the ground.
Ukrainians are smarter than we thought
The Ukrainians have one objective: Defend their territory.
To do that they only have to hold the cities, engage the enemy in urban warfare, stall them for time, deplete their resources and starve them out.
The Russian army is not equipped for urban warfare. Similar to the Nazis, they can reduce Kyiv to rubble. But the Nazis never managed to control the rubble. They lost everything in Stalingrad.
The United States took four weeks to enter Kabul in 2001 and three weeks to take Baghdad in 2003. The war in Ukraine has entered the fourth week. And yet, the Russians are still fighting in the suburbs of Kyiv.
Maj. Gen. Dmitry Marchenko, commander of Ukraine’s military forces in Mykolaiv, said that the Ukrainian strategy was to break morale through an unrelenting pounding of Russian positions. But there is another critical factor.
“We are defending our homes, our women, our families,” he said. “We don’t need their world. We don’t need their language. Let them build their own country and die in it and create whatever dictatorship they want there. We’re going to live like free people.”
Can Russia control Ukraine?
This still remains the biggest hole in Putin’s strategy. How are they going to control the second-largest country in Europe, which covers 603,700 square kilometers and is home to 40 million people?
More than three million Ukrainians have fled the country. That still leaves 37 million people to be taken care of, along with 146 million Russians.
The Russian economy was worth $1.71 trillion in 2021. The sanctions will forcefully reduce the size of the economy and the cash flowing into Russia.
Putin will not be in a position to handle his own countrymen, let alone feeding additional 37 million humans.
What will be the cost of the War?
In the first two weeks of the war, Russia lost 5,000 to 6000 soldiers, an equivalent of 400 lives per day.
Every day, Putin is losing an enormous amount of resources. If the war turns into months, Russia will not struggle to replace those resources, it will reach a point where it cannot replace them.
This explains why Putin may have asked China for military equipment and tried to recruit Syrian mercenaries. The first one will help him shore up fast depleting equipment, the second one will help him hide the loss of human resources.
It is possible for Russia to run out of weapons and ammunition very soon. We have no idea about their depletion rate. Ukraine has no need to worry about depletion, as the allies will keep supplying and they have millions ready to fight for the country.
The United States spent more than $8 trillion for its twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Did they win?
After the initial conflict, America only played a holding role in Afghanistan, a country with nearly the same population as Ukraine. Despite the bill and change of objectives, America was neither able to control the country, nor it was able to create an environment conducive to democracy.
The war in Afghanistan cost America $300 million every day. Russia does not have that kind of money. Neither does it have that kind of military.
Russia gets drained. Ukraine gets filled
There is a global stampede to help Ukraine. From humanitarian aid to hosting refugees to supplying arms and equipment, the world is rallying behind Ukraine.
The number of countries that expressed solidarity with Russia: Two. (Belarus and Syria)
As global money gets funneled towards Ukraine, there is a coordinated effort to drain money from the Russian government.
Ukraine has to defend itself. Russia has to occupy
Every additional day Russia fights Ukrainians, the Russian government will get one step closer to defeat.
- To win, Ukraine must hold at least one city, they are looking good to hold multiple cities.
- To win, Russia must win the people of Ukraine. (Ain’t gonna happen)
There were many locals who supported American forces in Afghanistan. The number of Afghans who wanted to flee the country when the US announced their withdrawal is evidence of local support.
In spite of the support, America miserably failed in Afghanistan, because they tried to manage it forever.
Within three weeks, Putin has turned every Ukrainian against Russia. Ukraine will always remain hostile to Russia. Forever.
The port city of Mykolaiv is being shelled by Russian forces every day. Bodies are piled at the morgue. But residents refuse to succumb. — NYT, March 15
“Kherson, in southern Ukraine, was the first major city to fall to Russian forces after the start of the invasion on Feb. 24. Although Kremlin officials had predicted that the Ukrainian people would welcome their “liberation” by Russian troops, the people of Kherson have been defiant, regularly gathering in the city’s central square to protest the Russian presence even when Russian troops fire in the air to disperse them”.
If this is what Ukrainians think, how is Mr. Putin going to convince them otherwise? He can’t. He has to fearmonger. The more he invokes fear, the stronger will be the defiance.
- 190,000 troops to control a country with more than 37 million people.
- 1 Russian soldier for 195 Ukrainians.
As you can see from the image attached above, the Russian troops are advancing with an eye on their back. The ground troops must remain connected to their supply depots, preferably inside Russia.
As Russian forces spread out across the country, it will become increasingly difficult to supply the army.
Morale is key to winning the war
It is evident in the last three weeks that Ukraine has all the morale it needs to dig in. The same cannot be said about the Russian military.
For years, Putin told his countrymen that Ukrainians are Russians.
When Russian commanders ask their troops to bring down a hospital or kill a fleeing civilian, the soldiers will have one question — Why are they killing their own people?
They will kill. Because soldiers cannot defy orders. But during those crunch moments, when it becomes life and death, Russian troops will try to escape the fight they do not want, while Ukrainian troops will dig in.
Why Putin will struggle to back off
The same reason why Hitler refused to back off Stalingrad.
When days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, Hitler knew he is not going to win Stalingrad. He could have cut his losses short and regrouped elsewhere. Good commanders know when to fight and when not to fight. Megalomaniacs don’t.
They rule with fear. They cannot afford to lose.
Hitler fought an ideological war. That it was only in his mind is another matter altogether. But he kept pouring resources into an unwinnable war, only to lose everything he had.
The Nazis never recovered from the mistake of committing their future to the battle of Stalingrad. Putin will never recover from the mistake of committing his future to the battle for Ukraine.
Putin has already lost the war. His off-ramp would be to ask for a small piece of Ukraine, declare victory and run back. I doubt he will have the courage to make such a decision. He will only make his loss as huge as possible.