Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to face the first 100 days of his invasion of neighboring Ukraine with great disappointment, experts say, after failing to meet targets he set when the war began on February 24.
The first 100 days of the Russian leader’s war against Ukraine were largely marked by Moscow’s underperformance, and Kyiv exceeded all expectations. Russia quickly failed to overthrow the government in the Ukrainian capital, suffered colossal military casualties and is now more isolated than it has been since the Cold War.
The war is currently focused on Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region as Putin seeks a military victory by attempting to seize the two major eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, large parts of which have been under Kremlin-backed control since 2014 separatists stand.
Neil Melvin, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said news week that he believes for Putin that his so-called “special military operation” as it has played out so far “goes beyond a disappointment.”
“I think you would be hugely disappointed with the goals that were set at the outset and the expectations of how quickly they could be achieved,” Melvin said. “A hundred days later, fighting is fierce and Russia is making very slow and incremental advances at tremendous cost.
“Total Strategic Disaster”
Melvin’s analysis was echoed by Max Bergmann, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who described the first 100 days of the war against Ukraine as “an absolute strategic disaster for the Kremlin.”
“Russia is experiencing a major economic setback and global isolation. It also unified and strengthened the transatlantic alliance,” Bergmann said news week. “That’s not how Putin thought events would unfold.”
Bergmann said that in retrospect it was clear that Putin wanted war.
“He wanted to take over Ukraine and behead the Zelenskyi government. But the war would not only serve his nationalist goals of bringing Ukraine back into the bosom of Russia. A quick capture of Ukraine would also allow Putin to return to NATO and the US with geopolitical strength,” Bergmann explained.
“Instead, Russia will emerge from this war significantly weakened as Putin struggles to maintain his power,” he added.
Steven Horrell, a nonresident senior fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), said news week that the Russian President has failed to achieve his original goals, which included erasing Ukraine’s national identity.
“Not only was he looking for a compliant state, but he saw the existence of an independent Ukrainian nation leaning west and joining the European Union as a threat to Russia’s national interests,” Horrell said.
He suggested that Putin and the Kremlin may not yet feel that they have failed in strategic goals. However, Russia underestimated Ukraine and the West, Horrell said.
“They underestimated Ukraine – the Ukrainian armed forces and national identity of 2022 is not that of 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and Russian-led separatists started the conflict in Donbass,” Horrell said.
“Putin also seems to have underestimated the West – I think we had more unity than he expected, security aid to Ukraine was far more effective than he expected and the sanctions were far stronger than he expected.”
James Goldgeier, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, said from Putin’s perspective, the war “didn’t go very well.”
“His hope was to overthrow the government in Kyiv and replace it with a government loyal to him, and he tried to eliminate Ukraine’s existence as an independent country. So he didn’t achieve that,” said Goldgeier news week.
Who has the upper hand?
Melvin sees the war as finely balanced, with momentum swinging towards Ukraine.
“We’ll see that over the summer, when Ukraine gets stronger, when it mobilizes large numbers of troops and also starts bringing NATO weapons to the front lines that have been supplied by the US and others,” he said.
President Joe Biden on May 31 agreed to supply Kyiv with advanced missile systems capable of accurately hitting long-range Russian targets. As the war continues to show no signs of ending, the West is increasingly willing to supply Ukraine with longer-range weapons.
“The big question for Ukraine is how long will it be able to continue the campaign from the summer, when there will likely be quite a few casualties? And I think the question for Russia is how long the Russian elite can sustain the political will to fight a war that seems increasingly hopeless?” Melvin said.
Is Russia threatening to conquer the Donbass?
The battle for Donbass has intensified in recent weeks, with Russia refocusing on the eastern and southern parts of the country. Putin’s forces are pushing to seize the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysyhansk, which would bring all of Luhansk under Russian control.
Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director General of RUSI, said news week that while he doesn’t think Russia has in any way accepted losing the war, it’s unlikely that Putin will be able to conquer the rest of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“To date, the Russians are still making some modest territorial advances in this area. I think it’s possible that they will make further progress and capture more of this area, and the Russians will try to do that at least in the next few weeks,” he said.
Melvin said he believes Russia will make very small gains, which officials could then call a victory.
“But that’s not the win they aimed for 100 days ago. And I think the question increasingly isn’t if they can make some gains, but if they can keep them now that the Ukrainians are counterattacking.” ” he said.
Chalmers said the war could reach a point in the coming months where Ukraine could undo some of Russia’s recent territorial gains, such as Mariupol and Kherson.
“Over the next few months, I believe Russia’s ability to mobilize and reinforce its front-line capabilities will be more limited than Ukraine’s. If the volume and sophistication of military support, especially from the US, continues this summer, the Ukrainian armed forces will become increasingly capable.
“I think it will be difficult for Russia to fight back. And so I think it’s entirely possible that many of the territorial gains that the Russians have made will be reversed,” Chalmers said.
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