The early days of Russia’s war with Ukraine haven’t gone well on the battlefield, in the global information war, or on the economic front. But Russia still has weapons it can unleash.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The U.N. vote was the latest setback for Russia in a war that so far has not gone well for that country on the battlefield, in the global information war or on the economic front. Still, Russia has a host of weapons that it can still deploy. To break all this down, we are joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hi, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: First, big picture, what’s the status on the battlefield right now?
MYRE: Well, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby just gave a briefing this afternoon. He said that there’s heavy fighting continuing in many parts of the country but no real major Russian advances. Now, in the last hour or two, we have been hearing about the southern city of Kherson, which may have been taken over by the Russians – still a little bit unclear. But the general theme during this first week of fighting has been Ukraine overachieving, Russia underachieving. And Russia’s plans have had many military analysts sort of scratching their heads. You know, why is there this 40-mile convoy essentially parked along a road north of Kyiv? It seems that food and fuel shortages are part of the problem. In addition, why hasn’t Russia’s Air Force achieved air supremacy, which was widely predicted? And the Pentagon says Russia seems risk averse in many ways.
SHAPIRO: Still one week in, although Ukraine has overperformed expectations, how likely is this to last? How much should we read into this first week?
MYRE: Yeah, Ari, it’s really important to just remember Russia’s sheer firepower advantage works in its favor the longer that this war does play out. And Russia has a history of using very heavy weapons to flatten cities, and an all-out Russian assault would be extremely difficult for Ukrainians to withstand. It will be hard for them to keep basic services going, hard for them to resupply weapons.
SHAPIRO: Let’s look at the information war, which is a big part of this conflict, perhaps on a scale we’ve never seen before. How is this battle going for Russia?
MYRE: So I spoke with this – I spoke about this with P.W. Singer at the New America think tank. He’s written extensively about information warfare. He said we’re seeing a full-fledged weaponization of social media, and it’s not going so well for Russia.
P W SINGER: Russia’s hope for a overawed, divided Ukrainian society and then a rapidly delegitimized and collapsed Ukrainian state, that just didn’t work. And they’ve clearly lost that battle, and it’s hard to see how they ever win it again.
MYRE: And here’s a pretty good barometer on how to look at the information war. Ukraine is putting out as much information and social media as possible, and this goes from President Zelenskyy giving interviews in an underground bunker to little old grandmothers confronting Russian soldiers. In contrast, Russia is trying to hide much of the war.
SHAPIRO: So what does the war look like if you are only seeing it from Russia?
MYRE: The Russian government is telling the Russian media they can only report official government information. The Russian government is also blocking and shutting down some media it doesn’t like. We’ve seen a few signs of discontent, some of those street protests. But it still seems at this stage that President Putin has pretty solid support among the Russian population. And I put this to Nina Jankowicz, the author of “How To Lose The Information War.”
NINA JANKOWICZ: It’s going to be a tricky battle, especially within Russia, and I think that’s actually where the informational front is going to be the most contested. How do we get information to Russian citizens so that they know what their government is doing? Because right now, that information is not being broadcast on state media.
MYRE: But you can’t hide everything. Today, for the first time, Russia’s Defense Ministry released some casualty figures. It said 498 Russian soldiers have been killed and nearly 1,600 wounded.
SHAPIRO: That is a striking number for one week of a conflict like this. Let’s turn to the economic front. We’ve seen wave after wave of sanctions. Can we tell how Russia’s economy is going to cope?
MYRE: Well, President Putin’s plan was to tap these large reserves at the central bank. But parts of that money, that big fund, is held in U.S. and European banks and are now frozen. Russia’s wiggle room will come through oil and gas. Western sanctions are allowing the sales so the global economy doesn’t hit it too hard. But overall, this still has not been a good week for Russia. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said we believe the Russians will adjust and that they will try to learn from these missteps.
SHAPIRO: NPR’s Greg Myre, thank you.
MYRE: My pleasure.
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