Putin just sent 40 miles’ worth of tanks to Kyiv, and his ‘A team’ may be coming right behind them

March 1, 2022, 3:06 PM UTC

“For the enemy, Kyiv is the key target,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday. “We will neutralize them all.“

Satellite evidence shows a 40-mile-long Russian armored convoy heading for Ukraine’s capital. The city’s inhabitants are terrified, and with good reason. Russia’s forces have been heavily bombing Ukraine’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv, for days, with dozens of civilian deaths. Now, their terror is coming to besiege Kyiv.

But at the same time, there is a regular stream of information that suggests Russia’s forces continue to be plagued by logistical issues, as well as a stronger-than-expected fight-back from Ukraine’s troops and citizens.

British intelligence said Tuesday morning that the Russian advance on Kyiv had made little progress in the preceding 24 hours, and that Vladimir Putin’s forces had still failed to gain control of Ukrainian airspace, limiting their operational options. Russia’s army is reported to be having trouble keeping its vehicles fueled up.

And it gets worse for Russia. According to geospatial intelligence firm ShadowBreak, Moscow’s regular forces are using shoddy, unencrypted analog radios, meaning their communications are: a) now being enthusiastically monitored by thousands of intelligence analysts, amateur radio geeks, and translators; and b) open to being jammed by the locals “sometimes in the middle of fights.”

“I think many of us who have watched Russia and its military modernization in recent years have been surprised at the military that has shown up in the Ukraine,” said Marion Messmer, codirector of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), a London-based think tank. “What we’ve seen so far has been not the best performance that can be expected.”

But that doesn’t mean Russia’s military performance can’t improve.

Putin’s ‘A team’

As Putin’s regime has quite openly said, it has been using Syria’s war as a testing ground for new weaponry. “They have been seeking out conflict situations where they can test their new capabilities,” said Messmer. Because the Russian military is so large (it has around 900,000 active personnel) and perhaps because Putin expected an easier invasion, Messmer said it is possible Russia sent its “less well-equipped B team into Ukraine.”

“The A team is either on standby, or Putin is holding it back in case it comes to war with NATO at a later stage,” she added.

Messmer said she was worried that Russia is “really stepping up the intensity of its aggressiveness” owing to the failure of its early strategy in Ukraine. Its strikes have been “fairly targeted and surgical” so far, but it may now adopt a “huge amount of force” so as to capture Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government, who remain in Kyiv.

The ongoing freedom of Ukraine’s leaders is the most important strategic element to withstanding the Russian assault, Messmer said: “I think a lot of Ukrainians have got a huge morale boost from him being such a competent leader, from his well-crafted messages on social media. Before the invasion started no one would have expected Ukraine to be able to withstand a Russian invasion as well as they have done.”

Messmer said the enthusiasm with which ordinary Ukrainians have taken up their government’s call to arms has made it difficult to get up-to-date numbers on the Ukrainian fighters in and around Kyiv.

‘Tipping point’

If the worst does come to pass, and Putin steps up his war crimes in the siege of Kyiv, that could prove to be the “tipping point” that forces the international community to join a shooting war against Russia, Messmer warned.

However, she said there may still be options that could avoid a Russia-NATO conflict, which carries a serious risk of nuclear war.

“I think it would be interesting to see what a United Nations response could look like,” Messmer said, suggesting there could be scope for an independent peacekeeping force involving non-NATO, non-European states.

The Western sanctions that have been leveled at Russia are “already incredible,” she added. “But it is important to think through how we can further increase the amount of pressure Putin is under.”

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