WASHINGTON – Russian President Vladimir Putin faces a critical juncture in the week-old war he started in Ukraine.
Bad choices, of his own making, are all he has left, experts say.
Unleash the full fury of firepower he’s amassed on Ukrainian cities, and Putin risks killing thousands of civilians and destroying homes, buildings and roads. Surround the population centers, choke off water, food and electricity, and Putin assembles the ingredients for a humanitarian catastrophe. Send in ground forces to take control, and Putin will invites a blood bath that kills Ukrainians and sends troops in body bags back to Russia.
Putin’s initial plan has unraveled, resting on the assumption that Ukrainian officials and troops would capitulate quickly. Instead, the spirited resistance from Ukrainians and poor performance by his own troops has left Putin and his military commanders frustrated and behind schedule, according to a senior Defense Department official.
The Pentagon and military experts expect Putin’s forces to regroup, encircle cities and lay siege to them, shelling and bombing them until they surrender. The Russians will likely seize control of the cities. Deep, hardened resistance awaits them.
It won’t be an easy fight, said Colin Smith, an expert on the Russian military at the RAND Corp. If Russia allows citizens to flee along the corridors they’ve agreed to establish, they’ll leave behind well-armed fighters in cities like Kyiv.
“Then it’s kind of a giant Alamo,” Smith said. “It’s an Alamo they can sustain for quite a long time if they’ve got the ammunition. They have the deepest subways in the world. It’s their backyard. They could fight for a very, very long time.”
There are also indications of poor morale among Russian troops, according to the Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings. Food and fuel shortages along with poor training have contributed to morale problems. The main Russian force arrayed against Kyiv remains stuck about 15 miles from the city’s center.
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