The first thing we know about war is that home field advantage can be a huge benefit. There is no question that it’s playing at least some part in the difficulty that the Russian military is having with Ukraine. It’s one thing to bomb mercilessly, using aircraft, but ultimately, an invading army needs to search house to house to ensure the enemy is finished and incapable of retaliation. That’s not an easy thing to do in a large city like Kyiv. That home field advantage means that there are many ways to engage the enemy with out him seeing from where he will be attacked. The idea being that if the home country can inflict enough pain and suffering on the enemy, the enemy will eventually succumb. It happened to the Russians in Afghanistan, it happened to this country in Viet Nam and it happened to the Nazi’s when they invaded Russia. Of course it’s also a large reason why a group of upstart and poorly trained American colonists were able to defeat a much larger and far more well trained British military.
Second, are the Russian soldiers really on board with this battle? There are close ties between the two nations and even though the languages are somewhat different, many Russians can understand and speak Ukrainian and vice versa. There are many marriages between Ukrainians and Russians. Remember that until 30-years-ago, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. There have been reports of Russian soldiers surrendering rather that fight in Ukraine. One captured soldier begged for forgiveness for the Ukrainian invasion. Although one could claim he said it under duress, it appeared to be quite genuine. On paper, Ukraine is woefully out manned and out gunned. But if the Russian soldiers don’t wholeheartedly believe in the cause they’re fighting for, that makes winning this war far more difficult.
Third and perhaps most important, never underestimate the opposition’s will to fight and die for their families and country. There’s an old story about about a Zen Master who went for a walk with his student. While out on their walk, they encounter a fox chasing a rabbit. “According to an ancient saying the rabbit will escape,” said the Zen Master. “Not so,” said the student, the fox is faster.” “Never the less, the rabbit will elude the fox,” the Zen Master Replied. The student asks, “how can you be so certain?” The Zen Master replies, “the fox is running for his dinner. The rabbit is running for his life.” I’ve always loved this story because it applies to so many situations. In this case, the Ukrainians are indeed fighting for their very lives. There is an extra incentive to fight hard and to repel an enemy when the lives of your people and the life of your country is at stake. This is one intangible that Putin and his commanders may not have taken into account.
The longer the Ukrainians can keep this fight going, the worse it will be for Russia and for Putin. Soon the harsh sanctions imposed by President Biden and the world will seriously impact average Russians and there’s no telling what their reaction will be. That could very well lead to a resolution in this conflict if Putin has any sense or hope of holding on to power.