Ukraine continues to put up a fight | EDITORIAL

Ukraine continues to put up a fight | EDITORIAL

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During the Iraq War, Iraq’s information minister earned the nickname Baghdad Bob for his spirited yet delusional propagandizing about his country’s success at fighting off American “infidels” even as video showed U.S. tanks motoring behind him in his nation’s capital. The problem with authoritarian regimes engaging in internal censorship is that their disinformatation and blustering fulminations always fall apart upon external scrutiny, and eventually the people begin to catch on.

On Friday, CNN reported that Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, first deputy chief of Russia’s General Staff, delivered a media briefing on the Ukraine invasion in which he insisted, “In general, the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed.”

Gen. Rudskoy may not have displaced any of Baghdad Bob’s greatest hits — “We made them drink poison last night and Saddam Hussein’s soldiers and his great forces gave the Americans a lesson which will not be forgotten by history” — yet his pronouncement of success collapses upon even a cursory examination.

A month into the military campaign, Russia remains bogged down outside of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. A senior defense official told Fox News that Russian forces are no longer even attempting to advance on the city, an indication that they weren’t prepared for the fight they encountered.

Meanwhile, NATO now estimates that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in just four weeks, about the same number of servicemen the nation lost during its entire 10-year foray into Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Wall Street Journal reported that “up to 40,000 Russian troops in total have been killed, wounded, taken prisoner or are missing,” according to a senior NATO official. The dead include as many as six generals.

On Thursday, video footage from a Ukrainian port city showed thick black smoke rising from the harbor. Ukraine officials claimed they had destroyed a Russian ship that had been offloading military equipment, including tanks and other armored vehicles.

Russia’s main advantage is its capability in the skies. According to news reports, the country has been ruthlessly bombing both civilian and military targets. But even the air campaign has encountered problems. While the Russians have stepped up sorties as the ground effort sputtered, they are apparently running low on precision-guided munitions, Air Force magazine reported this week. “What we’re seeing is a near desperate attempt by the Russians to gain some momentum and try to turn the course of this in their favor,” an official told the publication.

In short, the vaunted Russian military has been exposed.

“The Russian military is not succeeding in Ukraine,” Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a Washington Post commentary last week. “Russia’s plans to conquer Kyiv quickly were delusionally optimistic, and commanders are struggling to fix their problems. Russian troops haven’t demonstrated basic combined arms proficiency — the ability to coordinate between air power, land power and long-range firing … They’re looting food and other supplies.”

Ms. Schake worries that the situation makes it more likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin will escalate the destruction and take more risks. Perhaps. But surely the fact that Russia’s aggression isn’t going according to plan is better than the alternative. The poor performance of Russian troops also makes it more likely that Western aid to Ukraine — in the form of air defense or other military support — could prove quite effective.

Whether the Russians ultimately accomplish their vague objectives in Ukraine remains to be seen, of course, and depends in large part on how much the United States and Europe are willing to tolerate. But a month after Putin launched his latest attempt to rebuild the Soviet Empire, it’s clear that Gen. Rudskoy’s all-is-well pronouncement should be taken for the unadulterated blather that it is. Even Baghdad Bob could see that.

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