Russia in a training exercise in Belarus days before its invasion of Ukraine. Photo: Screenshot / BBC

“I don’t need a ride, I need ammo!” was the message Ukraine’s embattled President Volodymyr Zelensky had for the West after US intelligence offered to take him and his family away from Ukraine and to safety.

These words were truer than most realized. Presently, the world has marveled at the brave resistance Ukraine has mounted since the Russians invaded their country a week ago. Certainly, Ukraine has shocked the world with its ability to harass and slow the Russian onslaught.

Sadly, though, reports of the Russian military’s defeat are greatly exaggerated. The fact is, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is only just beginning and it is wishful thinking for Western intelligence officials and media figures to assume that the end is nigh. 

Vladimir Putin has staked his regime and his country’s future on the prospect of capturing Ukraine. Given these facts, it is unlikely that Ukraine’s initial resistance to Russia’s invasion will be enough to dissuade the would-be tsar from continuing his illegal invasion.

This is especially true, considering that the bulk of Russia’s might that had been deployed to Ukraine has yet to be brought to bear against the gallant defenders of Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine. Even Russian airpower, which technically achieved air superiority at the start of the conflict, is being used judiciously by Russian commanders.

Meanwhile, Russian armor has been moving into Ukraine at a plodding pace. Specifically, Russia’s vaunted new T-14 Armata tanks and their BMPT-72 Terminator armored personnel carrier (APC), designed for precisely the kind of urban warfare Russian forces will fight should they enter Kiev, have been kept mostly in reserve, according to most reports. 

There have been reports of Russian logistical woes being exacerbated by fierce Ukrainian attacks as well, slowing the Russian advance. Yet, the fact that Russia has yet to deploy their heavy-hitting weapons cannot be overlooked.

Russia taking its time

And the Russian units that have faced stiff Ukrainian resistance have, for the most part, been conscripts from the Russian regular forces. The truly elite and battle-hardened forces are still making their way up to where the action is – and taking their time.

The Ukrainian military, despite having been trained and supported by NATO for years, relies on mostly Soviet-era legacy weapons – such as the heavy weapons systems they need to repulse advancing Russian heavy armor – which Russian forces are familiar with.

What’s more, I suspect the reason that the Russian advance has been relatively slow is because the Russians are now seeking out Ukraine’s heavy weapons emplacements and are attempting to destroy them before bringing the bulk of their forces to bear.

NATO has attempted to supply Ukraine’s forces with anti-tank weapons and other Western-made heavy weapons. But there are limits to how reliable the supply chain into Ukraine will be the more that Russian forces move into the country. This, again, explains why President Zelensky has been calling for more ammunition for his country’s Soviet heavy weapons systems. 

Ukraine’s resistance has been effective precisely because it has had ammunition. Sadly, Ukraine’s forces are brushing up on the limits of their ammunition stores – and the West, despite its best efforts, is not able to keep pace with the growing demand in Ukraine for ammunition.

This, I believe, is the true nature behind Russia’s delayed offensive into Ukraine. 

Yes, they did run into some snags and certainly Ukraine’s resistance quotient has been higher (and more effective) than Russian military planners believed it would have been. But Russia has been taking its time in order to drain Ukraine of its ammunition and stretch out the defenders to their breaking point at the start of the war as opposed to letting them conserve their strength for the duration.

This, Moscow assumes, will help in ultimately defeating the Ukrainian military and pacifying the country after the fighting has stopped.

Russia is slowly moving into the country, splitting up Ukrainian defenders. What’s more, they are draining Ukrainian forces of this basic warfighting essential. 

Misleading reports

It’s possible that the West can ultimately rescue Ukraine over time. But the Western news media’s breathless – unquestioning – propagation of misleading reports about Ukraine’s strengths and effectiveness in combat is not helping.

What’s more, the constant insinuation that the Russians are losing outright, and Vladimir Putin’s regime may collapse soon as a result, are misleading. It’s possible that, if the war does turn out badly, Putin’s days as ruler of Russia are numbered.

Although, Russia’s campaign against Ukraine is only just starting. Russia has yet to bring its truly heavy-hitting forces to the frontlines and they appear to be more interested in probing Ukrainian defenses, draining Ukraine’s ammunition stores, encircling Kiev, and taking their time. 

The Russians are not yet losing this war. They are tiring the Ukrainian defenders out. Vladimir Putin is a judo master. In judo, one constantly probes an opponent, looking for changes or weaknesses in the opponent’s stance, and then, once detected, moves swiftly and unexpectedly to pin the opponent.

This concept is being used by the Russians against Ukraine now. As Gandalf in J R Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings books said, this is the “deep breath before the plunge.”

Over the weekend, it was reported that President Putin ordered his military to take Kiev beginning Monday. Meanwhile, fearsome thermobaric bombs were moved to the besieged city of Kharkiv – the same horrific bombs that the Russian air force has used to terrorize the people of Syria for years – indicating that Moscow is not yet ready to shift from “war-war” to “jaw-jaw,” despite claims Putin and Zelensky spoke over the weekend and agreed to have their representatives meet in neighboring Belarus to discuss a ceasefire.

Remember, Russia “negotiated” with France and Germany right up until the moment their tanks rolled into Ukraine last week.

Yes, Ukraine has enjoyed early and momentous successes in their war against Russia. But it is likely because Moscow is simply probing and draining Ukraine’s resistance rather than actually losing.

Once the limits of Ukraine’s ammunition stores are felt – soon, I fear – the Russian movement into Ukraine will be expedited. 

Brandon J Weichert

Brandon J Weichert is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower. He is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report: World News Done Right. His work appears regularly in The Washington Times and Real Clear Politics. Weichert is a former US congressional staffer who holds an MA in statecraft and national security affairs from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC, and is an associate member of New College, Oxford University.