Military experts believe Putin Ukraine strategy has boomeranged: 'Lost the war already'

"NATO has come together; rearmed; new entrants, Finland and Sweden perhaps will join the alliance in the coming months," said retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey.

Updated: April 19, 2022 - 4:33am

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As Moscow launches its long-awaited ground offensive into eastern Ukraine, reports of increased fighting coincide with analyses showing that Russian forces have slipped farther into disarray — and that President Vladimir Putin has already lost the war on the strategic level.

"It can now be stated that Russian troops have begun the battle for Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address on Monday. "A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive."

The U.S. Defense Department says that recent Russian troop movements appear to bolster that finding. 

"Over the last several days, you can continue to see the Russians are doing what we call shaping," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday. "They're trying to set the conditions for more aggressive, more overt and larger ground maneuvers in the Donbas." 

But observers have noted that the battle for Donbas notwithstanding, Putin has achieved the opposite of what he hoped to gain by invading Ukraine.

"Putin has actually strategically lost the war already," said retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey. "NATO has come together; rearmed; new entrants, Finland and Sweden perhaps will join the alliance in the coming months."

McCaffrey made his comments Saturday while appearing on NBC News.

The NATO developments, McCaffrey said, will come as a blow to Putin.

"He's desperate and in a hole," he said.

One sign of that is how Putin has turned on his own senior officers, according to one war-focused think tank. Increasingly, Putin is blaming the officers for military failures in Ukraine, according to a Sunday report from the Institute for the Study of War.

“The Kremlin is increasingly arresting Russian and proxy officers for failures in Ukraine,” according to the report

Among those reported arrested are two battalion commanders who vastly overreported the number of troops who were present in a deployed motor rifle brigade; and Vice Adm. Igor Ossipov, commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet, whose flagship, the Moskva, sank after being hit by Ukrainian cruise missiles.

In addition to arresting a number of its own officers for failures in Ukraine, the Russian military also has formed a commission to identify why the force has been plagued by personnel shortages, the ISW report says.

Despite the strategic failures, McCaffrey said, Russia will press on with armed attacks against Ukraine.

"So now we go from a defensive battle in built up urban areas which the Ukrainians have won decisively in the north, ejecting the Russians out of their country," McCaffrey said. "Russians are now repositioning to the east where they will try and fight a war of fire and maneuver, the object of which is to destroy the Ukrainian Armed Forces, not to seize terrain in the Donbas."

Russia will bomb Mariupol and subject it to a siege, McCaffrey said.

"Mariupol will probably fall and then we will see what the Russians can do to try and seize the major port of Odessa," he said.

Zelensky, meanwhile, has vowed to stand up to Moscow, in the streets of Donbas and throughout Ukraine.

"No matter how many Russian soldiers are driven there, we will fight," Zelensky said in his Monday address. "We will defend ourselves. We will do it daily. We will not give up anything Ukrainian, and we do not need what's not ours."