Analysis: Why Russia’s collapse in Ukraine means Putin could be dead

By the time you read this article, it will most likely be outdated, so fast is the advance of the Ukrainian armed forces.

It is very likely that the past days of the war in Ukraine will be studied by generations of future military officers and historians.

In summary, Ukrainian forces have recaptured more than 3,000 square kilometers of Russian-held Ukraine.

They did this by punching a hole through the thinly guarded Russian front lines east of Kharkiv and severing Russian logistics lines, forcing the withdrawal of large contingents of Russian soldiers from several locations, but most notably from Izyum and Kupyansk.

Without these two cities, Russia cannot effectively supply its forces in the north-east or east of the country, and hence further collapses, withdrawals and capitulations of Russian forces are to be expected.

It’s likely that the Ukrainians will retain control of what they’ve gained, which equates to all the territory Russia has gained since April.

The Russians find it difficult to defend, let alone counterattack. They just don’t have the troops or the logistics, and morale is at rock bottom. As of this writing, reports are emerging that the Ukrainians have retaken Donetsk Airport and are headed for the Black Sea coast, either Mariupol or Melitopol.

It’s quite an amazing achievement.

So, zooming out on the big picture, what does that mean?

For the war, this means that we are witnessing the disintegration of Russian forces in Ukraine. Maybe they can stabilize their lines temporarily, but we’ve passed a point of no return. Russia’s armed forces were previously poorly equipped, poorly supplied and of low morale. To that list you can now add the fear of encirclement.

Some people fear this will force Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons, but as long as Ukrainians remain within their borders, this is unlikely – because Putin knows it will mean the end of himself and possibly Russia.

Geographically, the Ukrainians divide the Russian armed forces into small pockets, which they will deal with individually. The most difficult of these pockets to defeat will be the Russian forces in Crimea, but once Ukraine has isolated them by destroying the Kerch Bridge, which runs between Crimea and Russia, it is only a matter of time.

Ukraine is moving closer to its overarching strategic goal: the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian sovereign territory. This was accomplished with exceptional skill and bravery, and huge casualties of civilians and soldiers, including an estimated 1.5 million Ukrainians who were transferred to Russian soil. It has also been carried out with billions of dollars worth of weapons, terabytes of intelligence data and operational advice from Western countries, particularly the United States and Britain.

Despite the media focus on whether Ukrainians are getting enough and the right kind of equipment, it is clear that they have been sufficiently empowered to conduct combined arms maneuvers hundreds of kilometers away – a particularly logistically intensive mode of warfare. The success will serve as a reminder to Western leaders that the guns, information and advice must keep flowing in order for them to finish their jobs.

But what does this mean for Russia?

First and foremost, it means that Putin could be dead.

It was his war. And not only has it failed, it has achieved the opposite of what he said: Russia is now outlawed, sanctioned, has its enemies united, and is about to beat its army in the field. That may seem like a good thing, but there’s only one thing worse than a strong Russia, and that’s a weak one.

A weak Russia, whose leader is exposed to the window floor, leaves many unanswered questions. Could there be a coup? Who will take over after Putin? Will Russia stay whole? And what happens to its nuclear weapons – it has more than 5,000 – while all this is happening?

While all eyes are on the events in Ukraine, I hope that someone will think about what could happen to Russia shortly. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd)

dr Mike Martin is a War Studies Visiting Fellow at King’s College London and the author of Why we fight Analysis: Why Russia’s collapse in Ukraine means Putin could be dead

Fry Electronics Team

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