Putin Has Failed All 5 Phases of Ukraine War: Retired U.S. General


Ahead of the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a retired U.S. Army general said Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed in all phases of the war.

Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling wrote a recent op-ed outlining Russia’s failures in each step of the war in Ukraine. He blamed Russia’s failure to a lack of adaptability and leadership to reach Putin’s lofty goals on the battlefield. He said Russia’s capacities were “overestimated” from the start.

“Both the size of its army, and the modernization it had supposedly undergone indicated to many observers that Russia would triumph easily,” Hertling wrote. “But since the invasion began, the Russian military has failed to adapt its strategy and operational objectives to battle conditions and circumstances.”

Hertling said the war in Ukraine has gone through five phases. Through each phase, he said Ukraine’s forces have “significantly outperformed” Russia’s due to Ukraine’s “military culture of adaptability.” The lack of such a culture, combined with a lack of leadership and initiative, has continued to hinder Russian forces.

Before the war began, Hertling said he knew it “would not end well” for Putin, without even knowing his military strategies or objective. Hertling said Putin’s “ambitious war aims” were too big for the size or capabilities of Russia’s military and that Putin ignored the importance of “unity of command.”

The Phases of the War

The first phase of the war, which began with Russia’s invasion last February 24, lasted close to eight six weeks. Putin shifted his approach on April 2 by moving forces east and appointing new generals, Hertling said.

But Putin did not do enough to address the damage inflicted on his army. After up to 40 percent of Russian frontline combat units were taken out and supply lines and effective command “decimated,” the Russia president moved troops east and ordered the army to rebuild in weeks.

Hertling said “any general familiar with the physical and psychological demands associated with regeneration of a force this severely degraded would tell you this would not work.”

Phase two began on April 18, when Putin launched the new Russian offensive in the east. Hertling said Russian troops and generals on the ground “continued to underperform.”

“There was no meaningful adaptation and no attempt to learn hard lessons from earlier setbacks,” he said. “Pieced-together, low-morale units were thrown into the fight with little planning, bad reconnaissance and ineffective battlefield leadership.”

During this time, Ukraine “was not complacent” Hertling said, as their generals are “fast learners.” While Ukrainian soldiers were “innovative and adaptive,” he said the Russian forces “continued to suffer huge losses.”

The third phase ran from July to September. In that phase, the Ukrainian army forced a large-scale withdrawal of Russian forces in the northeast Sumy and Kharkiv regions. Ukraine was aided by special operations using “stealth and disciplined operational security to ensure that Russia was embarrassed behind its own lines.” Hertling said Russian casualties “far exceeded” those suffered in the first two phases.

Phase four began in late September, when Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions—Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson—and ordered the mobilization of an additional 300,000 troops. The referendums in the occupied territories were delayed multiple times because of Ukrainian insurgency, Hertling said.

The mobilization was successful in bringing in “fresh but unwilling soldiers to the front line” but was “plagued by the same deficiencies that characterized Russia’s war effort from the start,” he said, describing the mobilizations as “rushed and improvised,” recruits as “poorly trained and equipped” and said Russian leadership “was still lacking.”

Ukraine, however, employed an “impressively coordinated” use of conventional forces that incorporated the arrival of Western weapons, including precision-guided artillery and rockets, he said. Russia responded to the Ukrainian special operations activity and territorial resistance fighters with increased missile attacks on critical infrastructure and civilians.

The Current State of the War

The war has been in phase five since December. While the front line has not moved much, Hertling said there has been “significant fighting and extensive casualties” on both sides.

Russia has made small gains along the central and southern fronts in cities such as Bakhmut and Vuhledar, but Hertling said this period is not a stalemate but a “slugfest,” as Ukraine continues its efforts to survive a Russian onslaught.

“Putin continues his messy mobilization and is sending fresh cannon fodder at Ukrainian lines in assault waves,” he said.

Hertling said Ukraine is balancing “limited but continuous” counterattacks with an active defense while allocating air-defense capabilities to protect civilians. He said it’s a “delicate balance for the decision-makers in Kyiv” who are trying to hold defensive lines with training and equipping their forces with newly obtained Western weapons

Throughout each phase of the war, Hertling said Ukraine is learning and growing while Russia is unable to change.

“Ukraine’s armed forces have admirably adapted in each phase of this fight, learning lessons from training they received over the last decade, and from the scars earned on the battlefield itself,” he said. “And Russia has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to do the same.”

The strength of the opposing armies reflects the character and values of its people, Hertling said.

“While equipment, doctrine, training and leadership are important qualities of any army, the essence of a fighting force comes from what the nation represents,” he said. “Putin’s autocratic kleptocracy is thus far proving no match for Ukraine’s agile democracy.”

This comes after U.S. President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday to meet with Ukrainian leaders and reiterate U.S. support for Ukraine.

“One year later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands,” Biden said during his remarks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”

Russian forces continue to strike Ukraine, with heavy shelling reported in residential areas of Kherson on Tuesday. Five deaths and 21 injuries were reported at a public transportation stop, according to the Ukraine Ministry of Defense.

A new Russian offensive is underway in the Luhansk region, according to the latest report from the Institute for the Study of War. Russian forces, however, appear to lack the critical equipment to replace the loses during previous failed offensive operations.


  1. “Hertling said “any general familiar with the physical and psychological demands associated with regeneration of a force this severely degraded would tell you this would not work.”

    I knew all along that the cockroaches would not regain any initiatives in this war. It simply cannot achieve any fundamental and crucial changes that could make this possible. To regenerate a force, you need a solid foundation that allows accomplishing it. However, a foundation that is made out of deep-seated corruption, ingrained incompetence, and severe abuse of subordinates, simply will never include an advantageous premise to bring helpful changes. This trend will not change for the coming years, which means that there will be no positive, fundamental changes of the mafia army for as long as this war lasts. And this war will not last that long anymore. Time is not on the side of these evil rats.

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