Russian service members gather during head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov's address, dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine ( Image: REUTERS)
Russian service members gather during head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov's address, dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine ( Image: REUTERS)

Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has rumbled into its second week but things are not quite going to plan.

The Russian President and former KGB agent is understood to have been left “humiliated” after his goal to conquer his neighbours in 48 hours failed.

Instead, his troops have been met with a plucky and brutal resistance, suffering their share of heavy losses on the ground despite moving in on Kyiv rapidly.

The capital, as well as Kharkiv and Zhytomir, are under continued air strikes this evening as the first round of peace talks ended.

The two sides met on the Belarusian border while invading forces clashed with opposing troops and civilians on a fifth day of conflict.

In a worrying sign, Russia’s defence ministry said its nuclear missile forces and Northern and Pacific fleets had been placed on enhanced combat duty.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, has said this evening he has signed a request to join the European Union, urging members to fast track the country on board.

It comes as Russia faces deepening isolation and economic turmoil as Western nations, united in condemnation of its assault, attempt to cripple it with an array of sanctions.

Ukraine’s allies also increased weapons transfers in support, with Finland agreeing to ship 2,500 assault rifles and 1,500 anti-tank weapons.

While Ukraine’s resistance appears stronger than first anticipated, evidence points towards the Kremlin troops continuing to overmatch their opponents, according to expert Professor John R. Deni.

The research professor of joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) security studies at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, told Al Jazeera: “I think the evidence points to continued Russian overmatch of Ukraine in terms of both capabilities and capacity.

“US officials have reported that somewhere between 50 and 70 per cent of available Russian forces have been committed so far, meaning there is still lots of nearby Russian military power left to commit.”

However, the lack of progress has raised questions.

Prof Deni added: “In terms of the operations, there are some anomalies that do not make sense to me, including the inability of Russian forces to successfully and conclusively establish air dominance over Ukraine, the inability of Russian forces to retain control and exploit the capture of the Antonov International Airport outside Kyiv, and the evident difficulty Russian forces are experiencing in term of coordination.”

Nevertheless, it still remains widely accepted that it’s a case of if rather when the Ukrainian capital falls to the Moscow onslaught.

Peace talks

The two sides met on the Belarusian border today for the first round of peace talks.

The content and exact position they are in, thus far, has not been made public but discussions did last for several hours, and included two breaks, according to reports.

Negotiators are returning to Moscow and Kyiv, respectively, for consultations before further rounds.

Russian delegation head, Vladimir Medinsky, said the two sides had “agreed to keep the negotiations going.”

It would appear Putin’s endgame would be to either install a puppet government, with the country under his control, or potentially leave Zelensky in charge but with his powers largely stripped and Moscow absorbs Ukraine under something of a neo-Soviet regime.

Putin has said his aim is to “demilitarise” and “denazify” his neighbours, suggesting he wants to neutralise them as a threat and take revenge for a largely misplaced wrongdoing.

Deploy nuclear weapons

Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces raise their alert status to the highest level.

It is the first time nuclear weapons have been readied since the Yom Kippur war in 1973 – though such devastating weapons have not actually been deployed since 1945.

Russia’s Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, said that the West had taken “unfriendly actions” towards Moscow.

He also added Western sanctions were “illegitimate” and so Russia had put its nukes on “a special regime of duty” – though it’s clear exactly what that means.

Dr Matthew Harries senior research fellow at the defence think-tank Rusi told iNews : “Any use of a nuclear weapon by Putin would be ruinous for him.

“It could be Russia is planning a brutal escalation in Ukraine and this is a ‘keep out’ warning to the West. Or designed to show that Putin will not allow himself to be removed from office.”

He said there is a risk, however, of such threats being misjudged leading to “escalation through brinkmanship”.

Putin warned last week on announcing the special military operations, before things quickly moved into full-scale invasion, that there would be unthinkable consequences for any nation standing in his way.

Dr Harries said if the Russian leader interprets certain types of Western assistance to Ukraine’s war effort as constituting “direct military intervention” this could trigger deliberate deployment of nuclear weaponry.

“The risks of nuclear escalation from Russia’s invasion are real and should be taken seriously. This has been known from the outset and is a primary reason why the West is not intervening directly with military force,” he added.

Accept defeat

Putin knew when he invaded Ukraine that Russia’s military dwarfs that of his former Soviet colleagues.

He also knew NATO wouldn’t send in troops to help, due to a fear of escalating a world war and because Ukraine is not a member state.

While European dependence on Russian oil and gas means countries like Germany would think twice about imposing harsh sanctions.

And so with that in mind, Putin appears to have aimed at a swift defeat of Ukraine while riding out any western sanctions.

But that hasn’t been the case so far.

If figures coming out of Ukraine can be believed, he has already lost thousands of military personnel, and has failed to take any major cities or even comfortably fortify the areas that have fallen to him.

History has shown the idea of holding onto power and control in a defeated nation can prove far more difficult than actually successfully invading it.h

The Ukrainians have shown in their brave refusal to back down that installing a puppet government and trying to have his way, will not be an easy task should he win.

If he gives up, without making any grounds in Ukraine, it will be a humiliating defeat.

He will likely be ostracised almost entirely by the West and his regime could be forced to collapse.

Russia would have to continue dealing with the sanctions placed on it, without its prize, too.

But in that regard it may be fairly well-placed to ride them out, according to one expert.

Stanford University expert Kathryn Stoner told Politico Russia could ” weather the already stiff sanctions” due to its strong independent back bone.

She said: “The Kremlin has built up a war chest of $700 billion in foreign reserves, among the most of any country in the world, has a low debt to GDP ratio (about 30 percent last year vs. 116 percent for the U.S., for example) and is banking on its good macroeconomic policy in the last decade to stand up, at least for a time, despite what the West may yet throw at them.”