FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Napoleon Bonaparte might have defeated Vladimir Putin’s invading army in Ukraine this time around.

The French “emperor,” we know, committed his greatest military blunder by marching an army against Moscow over 200 years ago. The wily Russians opted to abandon the city and allow it to be occupied by the invading French forces. The retreating Russians cut off water supply, destroyed food stocks and set districts alight.

The scorched earth strategy worked. Napoleon, without an enemy to crush, without food to eat and facing a harsh winter, decided to march back to Paris. The Russians attacked as the French retreated.

Failing to learn from history, Adolf Hitler committed the same mistake. He ignored a non-aggression pact signed with Stalin and decided to invade Russia. He laid siege on several Russian cities. He ever imagined Russia would be so large and its winter so severe.

After many months under siege, the Red Army gained the upper hand. It helped that Hitler’s panzer divisions were bogged down in mud as his troops starved. When the Russians won the initiative, their fighting forces did not stop until they reached Berlin.

Both Napoleon and Hitler overstretched their supply lines. Because of that, their troops were soon starving and demoralized. A hungry army never wins a war.

Learning from defeat, Napoleon learned that “an army fights on its stomach.” He always made sure his troops were well fed. Obsessed with details, Napoleon was supposed to have invented the baguette – bread uniformly about a meter long that could easily be stored and transported.

By every indication, Putin’s invading army is suffering the fate Russians earlier inflicted on armies that invaded their land. Expecting a quick “military operation,” Putin’s invasion force stockpiled arms but not food and fuel. This is the main reason, according to western intelligence, why the long armored convoys entering Ukraine are now stalled.

Meanwhile, western governments are rushing in portable anti-tank missiles and sophisticated air defense systems (including drones) that have demonstrated devastating efficiency in destroying Russian armor. While Russian forces are stalled, the Ukrainian army is reported to have doubled in size since the invasion began over three weeks ago.

Kyiv reported the other day that a fourth Russian general has been killed in the fighting. This can only mean one thing: Ukrainian commandos are attacking the Russian convoys from the rear. To be sure, Ukrainian army units are getting real-time battlefield intelligence from western sources.

The number of Russian troops killed in the three weeks since the invasion commenced already far exceeds US casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq over 20 years of fighting. Thousands of armored vehicles, including main battle tanks, have been destroyed. Hundreds of Russian helicopters have been blasted out of the air by portable surface-to-air missiles.

There have been reports of Russian tank crews abandoning their vehicles when they run out of fuel. Surprisingly, the Russian armored units lack sufficient infantry to protect them.

Military experts are amazed at the courage and competence of Ukrainian fighting units. In the same way, they are appalled by the sheer ineptitude of the Russian army.

The invading army, it has become apparent, set out on a 1940s-vintage blitzkrieg assault in a 21st century military theater featuring drones, portable precision-guided missiles, satellite-sourced information and artificial intelligence.

Putin and his generals, as did most western analysts, expected the Ukrainian army to be shocked and awed by superior firepower in the first days of the invasion. The fact that the Ukrainian army did not buckle in the opening days of the invasion meant that the Russian plan failed.

Moscow is now asking for help from its allies. They have deployed brutal Chechen militias to the war. A few thousand Syrian fighters are coming in to join the war. Moscow is calling in past favors to bring in African troops to join the battle.

Washington claims Moscow has asked Beijing for support. But China now understands it has more to lose and nothing to gain by joining Putin’s ranks. Even Uzbekistan appears to be openly disagreeing with Putin’s annexation plans.

A deepening sense of isolation and futility seems to have enveloped Putin’s mind. Last Wednesday, the Russian leader went on a televised rant against his very own oligarchs, calling them “traitors” for preferring to stay abroad.

Putin has not left the Kremlin for weeks now. Even in his own palace, he is constantly surrounded by a horde of bodyguards. This thug, who thought nothing of poisoning or assassinating his critics and locking up thousands of Russians protesting an unjust war, seems terrified over his own safety.

Extreme isolation does not do Putin well. Cut off from the rest of humanity, he increasingly dwells in an imagined universe. As someone once close to him puts it, he lives in a world without morals.

This might explain why Putin’s invading army has been bombing residential blocks, maternity hospitals and, most recently, a theater sheltering women and children. It is as if he wants to blindly punish all Ukrainians for daring to defy him.

But the deep emotional distress Putin is experiencing is also a source of concern for the rest of the world. The man controls Russia’s awesome nuclear arsenal. The first use of tactical nuclear weapons and chemical warfare are intrinsic to Russian military doctrine.

Right now, Putin is trying to break the will of Ukraine by devastating her cities and killing babies. The attacks also cover up the incredible ineptitude of the invading Russian army.

That ineptitude does not make the world safer.

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