Thoughts from Kyiv — afternoon of Feb 26, 2022

According to unconfirmed reports, Putin was handed a report of Russian losses this morning that showed 3471 dead. This number matches official reports from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense published at 8am local time. They also counted over 100 destroyed enemy tanks, over 500 armored vehicles, 14 Russian fighter jets, 8 helicopters. Ukrainian losses are 20–25% of those of the invader.

Obviously, the Russian advance is not going well. According to western intelligence, the Kremlin had planned to topple Ukraine’s duly elected government by now, and Russian television was supposed to be showing Ukrainians welcoming their “liberators” with flowers on Sunday morning. Instead, we have depressing photos and videos of captured Russian soldiers circulating social media: most have no idea what their orders are, why they are in Ukraine, nor why the local population is not happy to see them.

In these circumstances, Putin must escalate. His ground forces have proven unreliable. Russian artillery has successfully launched attacks on infrastructure targets on the outskirts of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol (civilian casualties have been reported), but the Kremlin’s guns have not gotten near enough to Kyiv to be effective. Reconnaissance groups sent into the capital to sabotage key targets have been met with both civilian and military resistance and have proven completely ineffective.

The plan to quickly occupy Ukraine’s capital and to install a puppet government has failed. The Ukrainian population must now be forced to submit. In other words, those that are not prepared to live under a Russian yoke must be destroyed.

Ukraine needs air cover!

Russian state media is broadcasting fake reports of mass desertions from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and pictures of apparent “victories” of the Luhansk People’s Republic in Stanytsia Luhanska. Obviously they are not informing their audience of the massive losses suffered by the Russian army in Ukraine, nor of the obvious failure of the Kremlin’s initial invasion plan. However, they are showing video from Kyiv where over 20 thousand automatic rifles were issued yesterday to local residents who have signed up for the Territorial Defense Force. According to the Kremlin propagandist spin these weapons have fallen into the hands of criminals — a claim that strengthens Putin’s false narrative, according to which his objective is the “demilitarization” of Ukraine.

Looking to the immediate future: Russian land entry into Kyiv will be met with fierce resistance. With ground assault becoming impossible, Putin is likely to resort to more reliable means of weakening the Ukrainian side: ballistic missiles and bombers. For the moment the use of chemical and nuclear weapons is unlikely (although cannot be completely ruled out), but a significant conventional attack by short range Iskander rockets is likely. The goal will be to weaken and demoralize Ukraine. Civilian casualties will be unavoidable.

Putin has demonstrated that his war is not limited to a particular region of Ukraine. His initial attack on February 24 targeted military infrastructure throughout the country. The next wave of bombardment is likely to also encompass the whole country. I am particularly concerned that the Russian President’s hatred towards “Ukrainian nationalists” will be vented at cities in the western region of the country where large numbers of civilians have fled in search of safe havens.

Although not completely destroyed, Ukraine’s anti-aircraft and missile defense capabilities have been significantly weakened during the past 2 days of fighting. However, an all-out ballistic missile bombardment supported by heavy bombers is likely to be overwhelming.

Ukraine needs air cover!

God help us!

Author: Mychailo Wynnyckyj, Ukrainian Social Scientist, Public Intellectual, Academic Development Officer, Professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Illustration by Christina Katrakis. A Cardinal. Oil on canvas, 2004

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