Hundreds of tanks and other military vehicles are now closing in on Kiev. This doesn’t have to mean the end of Kiev. Attacks with tanks do go stupendously wrong from time to time. More often than you would expect. The North-Vietnamese misused their tanks disastrously during all out attacks on South-Vietnam. The Russians suffered very heavy losses during the final assault on Berlin against an outnumbered and worn out German army run by an erratic madman.

During the war with Chechnya the Russian army made the mistake of sending its tanks directly into Grozny.

Their opponents then selectively destroyed the first and last tank of the column. This trapped the Russians inside Grozny. Their enemy had put artillery in the basements of apartment blocks. This made it impossible for the tanks to hit them. Snipers could take down anyone leaving the immobilized tanks. 

In Syria the Russians have also seen how tough it can be to conquer a city defended by motivated soldiers. 

What does this mean for Kiev? 

Unless the Russians are particularly pig-headed they will choose to encircle Kiev. The Germans in 1942 made the capital mistake of first hitting Stalingrad with the largest aerial bombardment on the Eastern Front and then moving in with their tanks. The piles of rubble canceled out the superior German tactical mobility. Later they got encircled themselves and 90.000 German soldiers marched off into captivity. The entire 6th Army had been destroyed. 

The Russians are likely very aware of the risks of unthinkingly moving into a city. Tanks are powerful, but only in the right circumstances. 

It’s unlikely Kiev will simply fall. If the Russians can cut off all supply lines leading into the city they may be able to force it to surrender. Yet there are many historical examples that show how difficult it is to force a city to surrender. Sarajevo held out for years. So did Leningrad. 

The longer this drags on the worse the situation gets for Putin. Time is not on his side and sieges typically require lots of time to succeed. It’s highly unlikely the Ukrainian president will simply surrender. The  Russians could start bombarding Kiev indiscriminately to force the Ukrainians to surrender in order to avoid further blood shed, but Russia’s reputation would suffer even more. 

This will probably drag on for a long  time. That’s bad news for Putin, because the Ukrainians are receiving help and resistance within Russia against Putin has the chance to grow stronger.

The institute for the study of war wrote this yesterday: 

‘The Russian military is reorganizing its military efforts in an attempt to remedy poor planning and execution based on erroneous assumptions about Ukrainians’ will and ability to resist. Russian operations around Kyiv remain limited as logistics and reinforcements arrive but will likely resume in greater strength in the next 24 hours. Ukrainian military leaders say that they have used the pause to strengthen Kyiv’s defenses and prepare to defend their capital in depth. The Ukrainian military likely cannot prevent Russian forces from enveloping or encircling Kyiv if the Russians send enough combat power to do so, but likely can make Russian efforts to gain control of the city itself extremely costly and possibly unsuccessful.’