The Daily Telegraph

Russian troops are on the ropes and this could spell beginning of the end for tyrant Putin, too

As Ukrainian forces retake more than 1,150 sq miles of occupied homeland, a stunning victory is in sight

- By Mike Martin Dr Mike Martin is a War Studies Visiting Fellow at King’s College London and author of “Why We Fight”

By the time you read this article it will most probably be out of date, such is the speed of the advance of the Ukrainian armed forces. It is most likely that the past few days of warfare in Ukraine are going to be studied by generation­s of future military officers and historians. In summary, the Ukrainian armed forces have retaken more than 1,150 sq miles of Russian-occupied Ukraine.

They have done this by punching a hole through thinly guarded Russian front lines east of Kharkiv, and severing the Russian lines of logistics, forcing the withdrawal of large contingent­s of Russian soldiers from multiple locations but, most importantl­y, Izyum and Kupyansk.

Without these two cities Russia cannot effectivel­y supply its forces in the north east or the east of the country, and so further collapses, withdrawal­s and surrenders of Russian forces are to be expected.

It is likely that the Ukrainians will keep control of what they have gained, equivalent to all of the territory that Russia has gained since April.

The Russians are finding it hard to defend, let alone counteratt­ack. They simply don’t have the troops, nor the logistics, and morale is rock bottom. As this article was being written, reports are emerging of the Ukrainians having retaken Donetsk airport, and are heading for the Black Sea coast, either Mariupol or Melitopol.

It is a quite stunning success.

So, zooming out to the bigger picture, what does this mean?

For the war, it means that we are seeing the disintegra­tion of Russian forces in Ukraine. They may be able to stabilise their lines temporaril­y, but we have crossed a point of no return. Russia’s forces were previously poorly equipped, poorly supplied and of low morale. To that list you can now add terrified of encircleme­nt.

Some people are worried that this will force Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons, but as long as the Ukrainians stay within their borders it is unlikely – for Putin knows it will be the end of him, and potentiall­y of Russia, too.

Geographic­ally, the Ukrainians are carving up the Russian forces into small pockets which they will deal with individual­ly. The hardest of those pockets to defeat will be Russian forces in Crimea, but once Ukraine has isolated them by destroying the Kerch bridge that runs between Crimea and Russia, it is only a matter of time.

Ukraine is getting closer to its overall strategic goal: the removal of all Russian forces from the sovereign territory of Ukraine. This has been achieved with exceptiona­l skill and bravery, and huge losses of civilians and soldiers, including an estimated 1.5million Ukrainians who have been transferre­d to Russian soil. It has also been done with billions of dollars of weaponry, terabytes of intelligen­ce data, and discrete operationa­l advice from Western countries, especially the United States and Britain.

Despite media focus on whether the Ukrainians are receiving enough, and the right type, of equipment, it is clear they have been enabled sufficient­ly to conduct a combined-arms manoeuvre over hundreds of miles – a particular­ly logistics-intensive type of warfare. The success will remind Western leaders that the weapons, intelligen­ce and advice must continue to flow to allow them to finish the job. But what does this mean for Russia?

First and foremost it means that Putin could be finished.

It has been his war. And it has not only failed, but achieved the opposite of what he said it would: Russia is now ostracised, sanctioned, has unified its enemies, and is about to have its army defeated in the field. This may seem like a good thing but there is only one thing worse than a strong Russia, and that is a weak one.

A weak Russia, with its leader defenestra­ted, leaves many unknown questions. Could there be a coup? Who takes over after Putin? Does Russia stay whole? And what happens to its nuclear weapons – it has more than 5,000 – while all of this is happening?

So, while everyone’s eyes are on what is happening in Ukraine, I hope someone is thinking about what may be shortly about to happen to Russia.

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