They say that history never repeats itself, but it often rhymes. Russian President Vladimir Putin finds himself in the same position as former US President Lyndon B Johnson did in 1966.
Johnson, determined to defend Washington’s client South Vietnam from Communist North Vietnam, committed American troops in 1965 to armed intervention. He gambled that the use of American power which included a sustained aerial bombing campaign would bring Hanoi to heel. LBJ even had a coalition of friendly states like Australia, New Zealand and South Korea to commit their armed forces to his war. None of that worked. Britain, despite considerable American pressure, refused to support Johnson’s war by sending troops.
The North was in receipt of help from China and from the Soviet Union. Propaganda wise, this was a coup for North Vietnam. A superpower attacking a poorer, smaller nation did not put the US in good light. No matter how many times the United States claimed to be “fighting Communism”, the images undercut Washington’s lofty aims. The United States was unable to defeat neither the North Vietnamese nor their Southern allies in the Viet Cong. In short, there was a stalemate.
Vladimir Putin, despite committing vast amounts of manpower to his invasion of Ukraine, has failed to achieve his objective. He does not want a pro-Western Ukraine and a possible future member of NATO on his border. Putin strongly believes that the West has no business interfering in his “backyard”. He also regards Ukraine as part of Russia, not an ally of the EU. The invasion or “special military operation” has failed as the Kremlin has underestimated Ukraine’s resilience. Putin also underestimated the support that the West would give Ukraine. He failed to take Kiev, which must be a source of frustration. Firing drones at Ukrainian cities is an indication of failure, not success. He is hoping to dismantle the infrastructure of that country. That too, will fail.
Last week, despite the spat between Berlin and Washington, NATO nations agreed to send modern tanks to Ukraine. This means German made Leopard 2 tanks and American made Abrams tanks. This is in preparation for the anticipated Russian offensive in the April.
Vladimir Putin has passed the point of no return, he cannot withdraw and he can’t surrender. He has to push on, as his prestige and his survival are on the line. At some point, he is going to have to cut his losses and negotiate with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Will Putin swallow his pride or will he expend more lives on a totally fruitless war? By now, he must realise that he cannot win.