Putin may still be fighting in Ukraine, but he's already lost the war against NATO

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It was the perfect plan.

Putin would unleash his professionalized, modern army on Russia’s backwater breadbasket. Seize Ukraine’s government buildings, capture her leaders, and bask in adulation from the locals. Many Russian troops even brought along their dress uniforms to look sharp in the victory parades.

In just a week or two, NATO would be pushed far from Russia’s borders; next up would be the tiny Baltic states and maybe Finland as well. How long could it take?

Two months in, Putin has rediscovered the old military adage, “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Or, as Mike Tyson less elegantly put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Putin's military losses are staggering

Putin's invasion of Ukraine empowered his opponents beyond the West's wildest dreams.
Putin's invasion of Ukraine empowered his opponents beyond the West's wildest dreams.

At the time of writing, Russia has lost nine generals and 42 colonels. (The last colonel to die had replaced another dead officer.) According to British estimates, about one-third of Russia’s 190,000-strong invasion force is out of action. And Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense claims they have destroyed 1,170 Russian tanks and 199 aircraft.

Even if those Ukrainian numbers are somewhat exaggerated, Putin’s facing the worst Russian defeat since Japan sunk two of the Czar’s fleets in 1904-5. That defeat nearly sparked the revolution that toppled the old empire a few years later.

The worst part for Putin is that his real enemy was never Ukraine, but NATO; Kyiv was just the nearest available proxy. Take that capital, and Putin could move into Western-aligned nations like Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. This would fulfill Russia’s dream of buffer states around its western border.

Instead, Putin empowered his opponents beyond the West’s wildest dreams.

Even neutral countries want to join NATO

On Wednesday, Finland and Sweden officially applied for NATO membership, a stark break from their past semi-neutrality.

Finland has a long history with the bear on their border. The Soviets invaded the peaceable nation at the dawn of World War II, gaining a bit of territory but losing about 200,000 troops in the frozen hell of their icy forests.

Their experience in the Winter War led Finland to maintain one of the largest European armed forces per capita with nearly a million reservists. Not bad for a nation of 5.5 million.

In the past, Finland didn’t want to provoke Russia by joining NATO. Sweden prized their role as international peacemaker. Ukraine changed all that.

Putin failed so completely even famously neutral Switzerland is reconsidering its stance.

The Swiss defense ministry is considering joint military exercises with NATO countries and adding armaments. “Before Ukraine, some people thought there would never be another conventional war in Europe,” Thierry Burkart, leader of Switzerland’s Liberal Democratic Party, said. “The Ukraine conflict shows we cannot be complacent.”

Russia has become an international pariah

Apart from NATO, Putin has turned Russia into an international pariah. Well, even more of one. Much of the world has sanctioned the country, cutting it out of trade and banking networks. Even China is quietly backing away, refusing to give Putin the economic and military aid he needs.

Moscow can no longer purchase computer chips, necessary to build and repair its weaponry, so their military is breaking apart washing machines looking for microprocessors.

The day after Russia invaded Ukraine, Russian lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov claimed, “the enemy will be defeated and victory will be ours. And I have no doubts about this.”

He was quoting his grandfather, Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs who decided to invade Finland back in 1939. In response to that attack, the Finns created a homemade bomb, naming it the Molotov cocktail. It proved handy for taking out tanks back then, and also today, as Ukrainians have learned.

Putin hasn’t yet lost in Ukraine, a development that will hopefully come soon. But he’s already lost the war against his actual enemy: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Jon Gabriel, a Mesa resident, is editor-in-chief of Ricochet.com and a contributor to The Republic and azcentral.com. Follow him on Twitter at @exjon.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Putin has already lost against his real enemy: NATO