Putin rolled the dice of war and didn’t beat Ukraine. This, in strategic terms, probably means he lost the campaign. In retrospect the Kremlin’s plan consisted of an airborne/airmobile/Spetsnaz descent on Kyiv whose mission was to establish an airhead in the capital and capture the Ukrainian government until relieved by mechanized forces racing in from the north. An airmobile assault was attempted at Gostomel to Kyiv’s immediate north.

But things went badly wrong. The Russian battalion-sized airmobile force met stiff air defense and was immediately counterattacked by the Ukrainian mobile reserve. Unable to land follow-on forces, the paratroopers could not withstand heavy weapons and were scattered or wiped out. Equally serious for the Russians was the failure of their northern pincer to advance on schedule.

Desperate to “bag” the Ukrainian government, the Russians attempted a large scale airborne assault for Vasylkiv Airfield to the south of Kyiv to establish a blocking position to catch withdrawing units. But this failed, with 2 C-17 counterpart IL-76s loaded with paratroops destroyed, and with them, two infantry companies of the Kremlin’s finest. Crucially the Russian mechanized elements trickling into Kyiv proved too weak to break through the city defense.

When it was clear Zelensky, and hence the Ukrainian government, could not be bagged and was quite capable of retreating in good order to fallback positions in the West, it was obvious that Putin could not conclude the campaign with the political time and the military forces at hand. At this, the diplomatic floodgates opened, with even China urging a diplomatic solution, and much of the world, scared to death of a third world war, timidly then more forcefully chiming in.

Ukraine has not won; not in the military sense. It has lost territory, suffered significant losses to soldier and civilian, endured massive property damage. But crucially it has not lost — and that may be enough. Attention is now turning to the possible danger that may attend Putin’s fall. While he appears to remain firmly in power, the ex-chekist cannot but be weakened by the massive failure of his gamble.

There is nothing else the Ukrainian winter war of 2022 resembles so much as a gigantic throw of the dice, so preposterous given the available forces that many, myself included, did not believe any rational man could undertake it. But perhaps Putin is not the ten foot colossus the media makes him out to be as much as an aging “man of force” presiding over an economically and demographically dwindling ex-Soviet haunted empire. In that he resembles another dictator, who the media likes to compare everyone to, that in dire straits launched a similar failed gamble in the Ardennes in 1944.

The crisis in Ukraine, while not over, is likely to evolve into a crisis in Russia. We shall soon see who is more to be feared: a Putin in Kyiv or a Putin raging in the bunker.

Books: You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-form the World by David Goldman. China’s 5,000-year-old empire has become the world’s largest economy, with a plan to control the decisive technologies of the 21st century—and the United States is in danger of being left behind. America has finally recognized China’s bid for world dominance—but we’re still losing ground. Domination of the next generation of mobile broadband is just the tip of the spear. Like the Borg in Star Trek, China will assimilate you into a virtual empire controlled by Chinese technology. China is taking control of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—the economy of artificial intelligence and quantum computing—just as America dominated the Third Industrial Revolution driven by the computer.

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