Russia's blitzkrieg-like invasion of Ukraine has turned into a bit of a stalemate. When Vladimir Putin first launched his assault in the last week of February, he expected a swift victory lasting no more than a week or two. As the war approaches its third month, Representative Pat Fallon (R-Texas) predicted on "Washington Watch" that it already has "the makings of Afghanistan 2.0 for the Russians."
Russia first invaded Ukraine from the north, south, and east, prioritizing a quick capture of Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv, in the north. But the polar petroleum producer flamed out of fuel. A 40-mile long convoy of armor, trucks, and infantry transports sat stranded on empty just outside the city for weeks while the Ukrainians fortified bridges, flooded low-lying areas, and picked off advanced parties. After nearly two months of stalemate, Russia managed to extricate the remains of their battered column to refit it for a fresh assault, accomplishing nothing but kicking up radioactive dust from the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe zone.
Now the Russian military machine has recoiled and struck again, although somewhat chastened. "Russians are desperately trying to get some sort of victory," reported war correspondent Chuck Holton. It is no longer trying to entirely annex Ukraine. Fallon explained that Putin now needs "to show his upper echelon... that the Russians gained something from this colossal disaster," surmising that his new goal appears to be "probably creating a land bridge from Mother Russia into Crimea." In 2014, Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine to expand its access to the Black Sea and oil.
The port city of Mariupol, however, still stands in Putin's way. While Russia used their naval superiority to occupy the rest of the coastline, Ukrainian fighters holding out in a sprawling steel plant in Mariupol, where Russia bombed a theater filled with hundreds of women and children, are determined to fight to the bitter end. Putin "canceled" plans to storm the plant, choosing to declare victory without actually having eliminated all opposition.
Russia's tottering economy means time is not on its side. "Putin doesn't have an inexhaustible amount of material and resources, and he's stretching his capacities very thin," Fallon explained. "They can't really continue at this pace for much longer." Russia's greatest loss of the war so far came last week, when Ukrainians sunk their Black Sea flagship with two Neptune missiles -- in waters Russia thought it thoroughly controlled.
If we had provided weapons sooner, "the Ukrainians would be in a much better position," said Fallon. But "these recent arms shipments... have been taking a great toll on the Russian army. And -- it can't be understated -- the will, determination and courage of the Ukrainian fighters has been spectacular." America and other Western nations continue to subsidize Ukraine's war effort; the Treasury Department announced the U.S. will provide another $500 million to the Ukrainian government.
For its second invasion attempt, Vladimir Putin appointed command of the army to General Alexander Dvornikov, also known as the butcher of Syria, which Holton warned could be a signal that Russia is "stepping up the brutality." Russia's first assault was plenty brutal; after forces withdrew from Kyiv, Ukrainians were horrified to uncover unspeakable war crimes and mass graves in the quiet suburb of Bucha. Relentless, indiscriminate bombing destroyed over 1,900 high rises in Kharkiv, a city about the size of San Antonio. Not to mention the untold casualties in Mariupol, where Russia has bombed trapped civilians with banned armaments like cluster munitions and vacuum bombs.
Russia also claims to have tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile that can evade defenses. But Fallon wasn't too worried. "Just ignore it, because he's a bully," he said. "Every time something is going bad, Putin rattles the saber." This is merely a signal that Putin is determined -- even desperate -- to eke out a victory at all costs.
But the Ukrainians are determined, too. Holton described them as "grim in their determination, but absolutely optimistic that they will push Russia out.... They know that death and torture and destruction is the only end of not winning this war." War is terrible, too, and this one has no end in sight.