'Beyond Disappointment': How Putin Will View First 100 Days of Ukraine War

Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to view the first 100 days of his invasion against neighboring Ukraine with enormous disappointment, experts say, after he failed to achieve the goals he set out at the inception of the war on February 24.

The first 100 days of the Russian leader's war against Ukraine have largely been defined by underachievement by Moscow, and Kyiv exceeding all expectations. Russia very quickly failed to overthrow the government in the Ukrainian capital, has suffered colossal military losses, and has now become more isolated than since the Cold War.

The war is currently focused on Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, as Putin is looking for military victory by attempting to seize the two big eastern regions, Luhansk and Donetsk—swathes of which have been under the control of Kremlin-backed separatists since 2014.

Neil Melvin, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Newsweek that he believes for Putin, his so-called "special military operation" as it has played out so far "goes beyond disappointment."

"I think you'd be enormously disappointed in terms of what the goals that were set out at the beginning, and the expectations of how soon that could be achieved," said Melvin. "One hundred days later, the fighting is bitter, and Russia is making very slow and incremental progress at enormous cost. This isn't really short of a disaster in many ways for Putin."

'Utter Strategic Disaster'

Melvin's analysis was echoed by Max Bergmann, the director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who described the first 100 days of the war against Ukraine as "an utter strategic disaster for the Kremlin."

"Russia is experiencing significant economic blowback and global isolation. It has also unified and strengthened the transatlantic alliance," Bergmann told Newsweek. "This is not how Putin thought events would play out."

Bergmann said that in retrospect, it is clear that Putin wanted the war.

"He wanted to take Ukraine and decapitate the Zelensky government. But the war not only would serve his nationalist objectives of bringing Ukraine back into the Russian fold. Swiftly taking Ukraine would also allow Putin to come back to NATO and the U.S. geopolitically strengthened," Bergmann explained.

"Instead, Russia will come out of this war significantly weakened, with Putin scrambling to maintain his grip on power," he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a conference as part of a summit called to attempt to find a lasting political solution to the civil war in Syria which has claimed in excess of 350 000 lives, at Vahdettin Mansion in Istanbul, on October 27, 2018. Friday, June 3, marks 100 days of Putin's war against Ukraine. OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

Steven Horrell, a nonresident senior fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), told Newsweek that the Russian president failed in achieving his original goals, one being erasing Ukraine's national identity.

"He didn't seek just a pliant state, but saw the existence of an independent Ukrainian nation leaning to the West and aligning with the European Union as a threat to Russia's national interest," said Horrell.

He suggested that Putin and the Kremlin may not yet feel they have failed on strategic objectives. Russia did however underestimate Ukraine and the West, Horrell said.

"They underestimated Ukraine—the Ukrainian armed forces and national identity of 2022 are not those of 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and Russia-led separatists started the conflict in the Donbas," said Horrell.

"Putin also seems to have underestimated the West—I think we have had more unity than he expected, the security assistance to Ukraine has been far more and far more effective than he expected, and the sanctions have been far stronger than he expected to weather."

James Goldgeier, a visiting fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, said that from Putin's standpoint, the war "has not gone very well."

"His hope was to topple the government in Kyiv and replace it with a government that was loyal to him, and he has sought to eliminate Ukraine's existence as an independent country. So, he has not achieved that," Goldgeier told Newsweek.

Who Has the Upper Hand?

Melvin sees the war as finely balanced, with momentum swinging towards Ukraine.

"We'll see that over the summer, getting stronger as Ukraine mobilizes a large number of troops and also starts to bring to the front NATO weapons that have been supplied by the U.S. and others," he said.

President Joe Biden on May 31 agreed to supply Kyiv with advanced rocket systems that can strike with precision at long-range Russian targets. As the war continues to show no sign of stopping, the West has been increasingly willing to provide Ukraine with longer-range weaponry.

"The big question for Ukraine is how long are they able to sustain the campaign from the summer onwards where there are likely to be quite high casualties? And I think for Russia, the question is, how long can the Russian elite maintain the political will to fight a war that increasingly looks unwinnable?" said Melvin.

Is Russia Likely to Seize the Donbas?

The Battle of Donbas has intensified in recent weeks, with Russia refocusing on the eastern and southern parts of the country. Putin's troops are pushing to capture the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which would place all of Luhansk under Russian control.

Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General of RUSI, told Newsweek that although he doesn't believe that Russia has accepted in any sense that it has lost the war, it is unlikely that Putin will be able to conquer the rest of Donetsk and Luhansk.

"Russians, as of today, are still making some modest territorial advances in that area. I think it's possible they'll make more advances and capture more of that area. I think it still feels that that's a long shot for the Russians, but the Russians will at least for the next weeks, be attempting that," he said.

Melvin said he believes Russia will make very small gains, which officials may then claim as a victory.

"But this is not the victory that they set out 100 days ago. And I think increasingly, the question is not whether they can make some gains, but can they hang on to them now, as Ukrainian starts to go on to the counterattack," he said.

Chalmers said the war may reach a point in the coming months when Ukraine may reverse some of Russia's recent territorial gains, such as Mariupol and Kherson.

"Over the next months, Russia's ability to mobilize and reinforce its frontline capability I think will be more limited than that of Ukraine. If the volume and sophistication of military support from the U.S. in particular continues over this summer, then Ukrainian forces will become more capable.

"I think it's going to be difficult for Russia to to defend against that. And therefore, I think it's entirely possible that many of the territorial gains the Russians have made will be reversed," said Chalmers.