Nearly two weeks after the Russian invasion of their country, Ukrainian forces have managed to hold back their enemies’ advance with resistance that has garnered praise from Western allies.
Analysts say their crackdown on a numerically superior army has been fueled by a combination of good preparation, national solidarity and Russian mistakes.
“They (the Russians) are basically not going very fast,” said a senior French military source, who asked not to be named. “At some point they will have to re-align, but it won’t be a failure.”
5 ways Ukraine is blocking the Russian advance
Ukraine, with Western aid, has significantly bolstered its military forces since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in a lightning operation and pro-Russian separatists conquered parts of the country’s east.
In 2016, NATO and Kiev started a training program for Ukrainian special forces, which now number 2,000 and have been able to assist civilian volunteers.
“Ukrainians have spent the past eight years planning, training and equipping themselves to withstand a Russian occupation,” said Douglas London, an associate professor at Georgetown University.
Recognizing that the US and NATO will not come to the rescue on the battlefield, Ukraine’s strategy is to “bleed Moscow to make the occupation untenable,” the CIA veteran wrote in Foreign Affairs.
Russia, relying on Soviet-era familiarity with an area Moscow controlled under the USSR, appears to have underestimated the Ukrainian armed forces’ home advantage.
This included both knowledge of the terrain – at a time of year when tracks can turn to mud – and the ability of the locals to take up arms themselves against the invading forces.
In such an irregular warfare scenario, weaker military forces can maximize the advantages they have over their stronger opponents — “advantages of terrain, local knowledge and social connections,” said Spencer Meredith, a professor in the College of International Security Affairs.
The challenges will become even greater as urban fighting develops as Russia attempts to invade cities like Kiev.
“That changes everything,” said the French military source. “The Russians will get into trouble on every street corner, building by building.”
Under the leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has remained in Kiev despite risking his life as Russia moves into the capital’s region, Ukrainians have shown the greatest resilience in the face of adversity.
Ordinary The Vanir-exoduss have volunteered to join the front lines, often after ensuring their families were safely on their way to safety in the west of the country or beyond its borders.
Images circulating online show ordinary people making Molotov cocktails or peasants hauling away captured Russian military hardware.
Ukraine had no choice but to further increase its exhausting capacity through rapid training of territorial forces and the use of light weapons,” retired French Colonel Michel Goya said.
Military analysts say Russia made strategic mistakes in the early days of the invasion after its launch on February 24, sending too few ground troops in the initial phase and not allowing ground and air forces to work together.
It seems that Moscow will achieve military success in a few days.
“At first they thought they could introduce units to the capital Kiev very quickly… But very early on they started getting nosebleeds,” said Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at the Russian Federation. Center for Naval Analysis in the U.S.
“The assumptions were ridiculous… how could you take Kiev in three days? The Russian military has now adapted and is trying to run this as a combined arms operation,” he said.
Russia has set alarm bells ringing around the world by keeping tens of thousands of troops close to the border with Ukraine in recent weeks.
But it is possible that few had any idea that they were about to be sent to war in a neighboring country whose inhabitants are fellow Slavs and where many speak Russian as their mother tongue.
Morale will not have been helped by heavy Russian casualties who, according to the French source, have had at least one major general – a sign that the military’s top elite felt compelled to visit the front line.
Tom Pepinsky, the non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the evidence so far suggested Ukraine’s treatment of Russian prisoners of war could become harsher as the invaders penetrate further into the country.
“Ukraine resistance will be most effective when Russians are tense, sleepless and prone to overreaction,” he said.
Stuart Williams and Didier Lauras © Agence France-Presse