Russia's Image as a Superior Military Crumbled in Less Than 100 Days

When Russia began its attack in Ukraine 100 days ago on Friday, many experts predicted the campaign would end quickly in victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not only did that not happen, but Russia's military, in the eyes of many, now looks exponentially weaker than it did prior to the war.

During his 20-plus years as leader, Putin has devoted vast amounts of resources into growing Russia's military into one of the largest and one of the most modern forces in the world. In the early days of the invasion, numerous media outlets reported on the vast technology of Russia's weapons, but little of that has been evident in Ukraine.

William Reno, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, told Newsweek that Putin's original plan for the invasion "was that it would be a war of annihilation, in which a 48- to 72-hour campaign would crush Ukraine's government, its leaders arrested or killed, and a new government installed to do Russia's bidding."

However, the Ukrainian forces proved mightier than most people had expected, and they benefited from military and economic aid from other countries, Reno said.

Plus, he added, "Russia's army isn't turning out to be so great."

A destroyed Russian tank in Ukraine
Experts expected Russia to gain a quick and decisive win in Ukraine. Now, as the war hits 100 days, the reputation of the strength of Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces have also taken a hit. Above, a destroyed Russian military vehicle are seen on a road near Kutuzivka, Ukraine, on May 27. Photo by PATRICK FORT/AFP via Getty Images

Russia possesses one of the largest air forces in the world, and Flight Global's 2022 World Air Force directory reported earlier this year Russia had 1,511 combat aircraft to Ukraine's 98. Yet, Russia has not managed to establish air superiority over Ukraine and continues to lose aircraft as the result of Ukraine's anti-aircraft weapons.

Sean Spoonts, editor in chief of the military news outlet SOFREP, told Newsweek that it's believed that a lack of parts and Russia's low success rate of getting planes in the air has limited its aerial attacks. He also noted that Russia's reliance on unguided "dumb" bombs could be evidence that it is low on guided missiles.

Along with the power of Russia's military being overestimated, Spoonts also gave a lot of credit to Ukraine's forces.

"They're being very, very smart about the way they fight this thing," he said. "And now they're on the offensive."

Putin's navy has also struggled. His Black Sea Fleet was hit with a major loss after the flagship cruiser Moskva sunk in mid-April. Though Russian officials blamed a fire for the $750 million ship's destruction, Ukraine claimed two of its anti-ship missiles were responsible for sinking the vessel that became famous during the early days of the invasion.

Russian ground forces have recently found more success after a shift in strategy found troops redeployed from areas near Kyiv to smaller sites in eastern Ukraine. Spoonts said the "current Russian offensive pattern is to build up forces, then lay an intense artillery bombardment on Ukrainian positions and then advance to capture ground or an objective."

"Russia's options at this point are to use as much artillery as they can muster to pound Ukrainian military positions, its infrastructure and its cities," Reno said. "They're becoming more reliant on artillery because they know direct engagements result in more dead Russian soldiers, general officers included."

No matter what, though, Russia is looking "a lot weaker" than it did before the war as "the Ukrainians are slowly wrecking Russia's army," Reno said.

He added, "It's possible the Russians have one more offensive in them, though I'm skeptical."

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.