Vladimir Putin, Economic Forum
President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the plenary session of the XXVI St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo credit: Pavel Bednyakov / RIA Novosti / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

If you had asked Vladimir Putin in February of last year how much territory he thought he would have won by now, the answer probably would not have been “We’re hoping for some marginal gains in eastern Ukraine."

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If you are reading the headline of this story and are following what’s happening in Ukraine, you might be asking yourself: Really? But hasn’t that much-hyped counteroffensive been less effective than the Ukrainians had hoped?

That may be true. However, when you take a step back and think about where things stand, you realize just how poorly the war is going for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Let’s look at the big picture: It’s been roughly a year and a half since his troops invaded Ukraine. Well, or at least tried to invade.

Since then, Russia has suffered massive losses, both in terms of lives and equipment destroyed. It’s tough to say how many casualties the invading forces have suffered, but a new independent assessment estimates that 50,000 Russians have died so far.

In addition, Putin’s regime is hemorrhaging resources. That does not include the tanks that are being destroyed but also the missiles that Russia keeps firing at Ukraine. Those things don’t grow on trees.

And for what? If you had asked Vlad the Invader in February of last year how much territory he thought he would have won by now, the answer probably would not have been “We’re hoping for some marginal gains in eastern Ukraine.”

Obviously, it is true that Ukraine is also suffering heavy losses, and, as the smaller country, its casualties are more difficult to replace.

In addition, it’s not just soldiers who are getting killed (probably around 20-25,000) but also civilians (close to 10,000). Then there are the millions of refugees and thousands of people who have been abducted and abused.

But inflicting that kind of traumatic punishment on the Ukrainian people wasn’t the goal; it was taking their land. And here, Russia has failed.

In defending its country, Ukraine has also used a lot of resources. However, as opposed to Russia, it is getting a steady supply of (often superior) weapons from Western countries, and they come free of charge.

So, apart from negligible territorial gains, how else has Putin benefited from his invasion?

You be the judge.

Since the start of last year, Russia has been sanctioned and isolated from the West. At the same time, Europe, once a top customer of Russian oil and gas, is striving to become much more energy independent, so even if the sanctions are lifted at some point, Russia will have lost customers for its most important product.

Furthermore, NATO has expanded significantly with the addition of Finland and (soon) Sweden. Russia’s border with the Western military alliance is now twice what it was before. And, when the war ends, it is quite possible that Ukraine will be admitted as well.

Finally, there is Putin himself. Just last month, he had to weather the most serious challenge to his leadership to date. Oh, and the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for his arrest.

So, yes, maybe the Ukrainian counteroffensive isn’t what people hoped it would be; but, if Putin had known last February what he knows now, he probably would have thought twice about invading.

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