War in Europe: Is Putin's military gamble paying off?

General Richard Dannatt, the former head of the British army, told ITV News that Ukraine is unlikely to win this war on the battlefield - but then, they might not have to

Words by Digital Journalist Barnaby Papadopulos

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has reached its third day. Troops reached the capital, Kyiv, but faced fierce resistance from Ukrainian soldiers and armed civilians.

Elsewhere, Russian troops claim to have captured the strategic town of Melitopol. Ukraine claims to have shot down a transport plane. Russian rockets have hit targets in cities across the country.

So who's winning? The overall picture is murky and confusing.

Facing one of the most powerful militaries in the world, Ukraine has been putting up a fierce resistance.

But equally, a senior US defense official, speaking under condition of anonymity, said Russia has only deployed half of the force it has ranged around Ukraine's borders.

Not going to plan?

Britain's Ministry of Defence certainly thinks so.

They said that, as of Saturday morning, Russia had yet to gain control of Ukraine's airspace, and that casualties are expected to be greater than the Kremlin had anticipated.

Moreover, the first day of the invasion wasn't as successful as Vladimir Putin may have been hoping for.

Around 24 hours after bombs started falling in Ukrainian cities, the UK's Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, said Russia had "not taken any of its major objectives...They’ve lost over 450 personnel."

General Richard Dannatt, the former head of the British army, said Russia's invasion, was "a major miscalculation."

"We've already seen pictures of demonstrators against the war on the streets in Moscow, and in other cities in Russia.," he told ITV News.

"Over the medium to long term, [sanctions] will gradually have an affect on the Russian economy, ultimately on the Russian standard of living, and that degree of unpopularity that Vladimir Putin has in Russia will increase."

Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, stated his government is still in control of the capital, Kyiv, after fighting on Saturday.

"Fanaticism and fervour"

However fiercely Ukrainian troops are resisting, they remain outnumbered and outgunned.

Ukraine's airforce has less than 150 aircraft, whilst Russia's has over 1,000. Russia boasts 15,000 armoured fighting vehicles to Ukraine's 3,000.

Moreover, this isn't a war Vladimir Putin can afford to lose. He's taken a huge political gamble.

Speaking to ITV News on Saturday, the Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said that there was a "fanaticism and fervour in his language which is very concerning."

"I think that he has gone all in on this, he has put a huge proportion of the Russian forces into this campaign in Ukraine."

"I'm very concerned he's backed himself into a corner."

If that's true, there are fears he might turn to more extreme tactics. Thousands of Syrian civilians have died since Russia began bombing population centres during their intervention in the Middle Eastern country.

Lord Dannatt said that if the Russian advance is slowed, it's possible that the Russian president could instruct his troops to resort to more aggressive tactics.

"Vladimir Putin can't fail," he said.

"If his current tempo of operations is not having the success that he requires, then there is probably no alternative than to up the tempo, up the degree of violence, which will mean more Ukrainian civilians and soldiers and Russian soldiers are being killed."

"Vladimir Putin can't fail", says Lord Dannatt

Could NATO intervene?

Russia claims to have invaded Ukraine, in part, to stop it from joining NATO, a military alliance of 30 countries that includes the UK.

Some Ukrainians are calling for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over the country, meaning that fighter jets from the alliance would be used to prevent Russian planes from bombing Ukrainian targets.

Theoretically, this could change the course of the conflict. But it's incredibly unlikely to happen.

Such an intervention would put NATO troops in direct conflict with the Russian military.

And the alliance's leaders will be mindful of President Putin's ominous warning at the start of his campaign, that any action taken against his forces would lead to "consequences you have never seen".