Russian media and President Vladimir Putin’s propagandists, such as television personality Vladimir Solovyov, continue to peddle a dangerous and threatening narrative. It is a narrative claiming Russia is not only winning its war of aggression in Ukraine but is also prepared to square off against those who challenge its supremacy, specifically its Northern European neighbors. This is the time for NATO and Ukraine’s allies to up the pressure on Russia, a time to stand firm against any further Russian aggression. Ironically and comically, the Russians are trying to convince the listening world that their “special military operation” in Ukraine has not only been successful but that Russian forces are on the cusp of a great victory. Neither scenario is true, and with an incoherent and disjointed Russian chain of command and uncoordinated air and ground operations, they are losing irreplaceable numbers of men and machines.

This friction and chaos, at the highest levels of the Russian leadership, is an opportunity for Ukraine. An opportunity, with support from NATO and their allies, to trap the Russians and fundamentally alter the course of the war – with exposed supply lines and the latent onset of winter, a defeat of Russian forces reminiscent of the Battle of Kyiv in 1942, where nearly seven-hundred thousand Russians were killed or captured, should be in the mind of Russian military planners. Understandably, NATO leaders are fearful of pushing the Russians into a corner, but Russia has nothing left, albeit veiled threats of nuclear weapons. President Putin, like any despot, is concerned with personal and regime preservation, and any use of nuclear weapons would be the end to both.

For Russia, a Ukraine victory is a long-lost, unattainable daydream. As President Putin searches for political lifelines or ego-saving maneuvers, time is running out. The Russian Armed Forces are exhausted, the Russian people are frustrated, the Russian economy is crippled, and there are few political options available. Let me clarify a few options that would not be embarrassing for President Putin or options that a czar, clinging to power, would accept. Any call by Russia for a cessation of hostilities would imply Russia is weak and Putin cannot lose face – not now – what a conundrum.

Simply put, the unified Russian forces can no longer win the war in Ukraine, as their forces have culminated – they can no longer advance or effectively defend themselves. No allies are coming to their rescue. Unfortunately, this is not how mainstream Western media are reporting the war. Instead, there is a focus on the politics and risks of supporting a Ukraine that has its own internal struggles with manpower, training, and perceptions of corruption, but let’s keep our eyes on the real issue – an expansionist Russia. Russia cannot regenerate forces fast enough and, even with a four-to-one advantage in raw manpower over Ukraine, has been unable to generate any operational momentum after its most recent fall offensive. Desertions, low levels of training for conscripts, untrained junior officers and a void of non-commissioned officers plague the Russian Armed Forces at every level.

Russian leadership at the highest levels has been just as manic and just as disjointed. President Putin, like so many dictators of the past, believes he knows warfare better than his generals and continues to micromanage aspects of the war from his office in the Kremlin. Putin often approves sorties of aircraft, movements of armored formations and the timing of attacks. Russian Army General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff, was appointed as commander of military operations in Ukraine last January, but finding a clear chain of command and the limits of his authorities is difficult. The actual operational chain of command in the Ukraine is kept close hold by the Kremlin, and likely for good reasons.

The Russian Armed Force’s senior leaders are likely to appease President Putin rather than question his tactical acumen as a means of self-preservation. The list of imprisoned Russian Generals and those who have died under suspicious circumstances continues to grow. On the Ukrainian front, there has been a rapid turnover of operational and tactical commanders from the battalion level and above. A combination of combat casualties, assassinations, mutinies, and high-profile firings have taken their toll on the Russian unit’s effectiveness and cohesion.

Still, more friction exists for senior commanders because of the mixing of military formations with traditional police, domestic and foreign intelligence services, and mercenary groups. An example is the still operational and notorious Wager Group – inside the Wager Group is the Sabotage Assault Reconnaissance Group (DShRG), which is pro-Russian, neo-Nazi and includes officers of the Russian Federal Drug Control Unit (FKSN) – a dangerous mix of state and non-state organizations. As an autocrat who needs to ensure his competitors cannot become too strong, President Putin encourages rivalries and accepts the inefficiencies of an army that has no unity of command.

Unity of command and unity of effort is critical for offensive military operations, particularly for one involving overt aggression – a critical vulnerability of the Russians. Conversely, unity of command is also essential for defending against an invading army and is one of Ukraine’s great advantages. Ukraine has unified its country and army against a common enemy. They see this as a fight on many levels but, at its core, as a fight for national identity and survival – as did Winston Churchill in 1940.