2022 Putin Invasion of Ukraine
On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced "a special military operation" to "demilitarize" Ukraine and "liberate" the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. Putin's invasion force of about 190,000 troops launched attacks on eastern (Donetsk-Luhansk), southern (Crimea), and northern (Belarus) fronts. Ground operations backed by artillery, air strikes, cruise and ballistic missiles, and paratrooper landings, were designed to overwhelm the Ukrainian military and capture or eliminate the civilian leadership within three days. A pro-Russian government would quickly be installed in Kyiv, opening the way for Ukraine's acceptance into an expanded Russian Federation.
But the 44 year-old Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski immediately placed the country under martial law, put armed forces on a war footing, and mobilized Ukrainian males aged 18 to 60. Putin's plans did not survive contact with the Ukrainian military. Attempts by Russian forces to seize Antonov Airport and Vasylkiv Air Base near Kyiv, encountered heavy resistance and failed. A battalion-strength armored element of the Russian 126th Naval Infantry Brigade, intent on attacking Odessa from the north, encountered heavy resistance from combined Ukrainian Army and Territorial Defense forces on the shores of the river Bug, near Voznesensk. Despite being greatly outnumbered and lacking tanks, the Ukrainians killed or captured most of the 400 Russian troops and destroyed 30 of their 43 vehicles. Subsequent massive attacks by Russian forces failed to capture key cities, stalled, or suffered huge losses. By late March, Russia resorted to conduct an air war against primarily civilian targets.
Early in the war Russian armed forces made significant incursions in north, east and south Ukrainian territories, but by late 2022 Ukrainian Defense forces were able to regain some of the lost ground. Russian air forces have heavily relied on Tu-22 and Tu-95 bombers, Su-25 fighter-bombers, and Kh-22, Kh-59, and Kh-101 cruise missiles to attack Ukrainian military and civilian targets. The smaller Ukrainian air forces have shown they have the capability to strike deep in Russian territory. On December 2022, they used guided missiles, likely modified Tu-141 reconnaissance unmanned aircraft, to attack Russian air bases at Engels, Dyagilevo, and Kursk-Khalino.
Most hurtful to Russian officials and citizens has been the adoption of financial, economic, and social sanctions by free-world nations. The invasion of Ukraine also failed to achieve a key objective of Putin's attack on Ukraine, to obtain territorial gains that would shift Russian Federation borders to the immediate vicinity of NATO and other western European nations and facilitate further westward expansion. Instead, Russia's attack energized lackadaisical European nations into strengthening NATO and national defenses.
One year after the start of the Russian invasion, Russian and Ukrainian military ground forces were fighting for control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, while Russia continued air attacks on Ukrainian civilian population centers. Zelenski continues to lead Ukraine, with support from the United States, NATO, and Western democracies. The original top Russian commanders of the invasion forces have been replaced, and a series of high-ranking Russian military officials have died through defenestration, suggesting a possible erosion of confidence and cohesion among Putin's inner circle. About seven million people have left Ukraine and moved mostly to Eastern European countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, and other free-world countries like the United Kingdom and the United States. A smaller number, possibly one million, have fled from Russia to Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkey, Serbia, Israel, Azerbaijan, and other countries.
In the first year of the war, estimated Russian military casualties were about 200,000, with 60,000 killed. The Wagner Group, a mercenary organization collaborating in Putin's war effort, suffered about 30,000 casualties, with 9,000 killed. The Ukrainian military suffered about 100,000 casualties, with 13,000 killed. Ukrainian civilians killed in the war, mostly as a result of Russian bombing and missiles, number about 16,000. These losses are staggering; for comparison, Soviet Union military dead from all causes during the Soviet-Afghanistan War (1979-1989) were about 26,000, and United States military dead from all causes during the entire Vietnam coflict (1954-1975) were 58,000, with 41,000 killed in combat.
However the Russian-Ukraine War is resolved, the Russian economy faces major challenges. In the first five weeks, Russian manpower and equipment losses in Ukraine exceeded the total losses in the ten-year Afghanistan war. To survive the loss of beneficial economic trade with Europe, the United States, Australia, and many other nations, Russia has found it necessary to become dependent on China. Russia will have to replace equipment lost in Ukraine and find outlets for its oil and other exports, and if it occupies part or all Ukraine it will face an insurgency harsher than in Afghanistan. A China-Russia axis will risk a broader conflict and further divide Russia from the rest of the world. It is not certain that Putin's rule would long endure such a setback in Russian fortunes.
If Putin is removed and is replaced by Russian leadership that wants to return to economic integration with free countries in America, Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world, Russia would avert economic disaster and be no longer regarded as a pariah in the free world. Ukraine would still face a long period of reconstruction, but would be supported by western democracies and retain its national integrity.