What is Putin's endgame now?
Just over five weeks into the war, and one thing is clear about how it will end – there will be no surrender.
"There will be a negotiated settlement, I think. but clearly there's still a lot of fighting going on as each side tries to create conditions that give it more leverage at the negotiating table," said former CIA director and commander of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, retired Army General David Petraeus.
He says the Russians have already lost the battle for Kyiv: "They will not be able to accomplish what was presumably their main objective from the outset, which was to topple the Zelensky government and replace it with a pro-Russian government."
CBS News national security correspondent David Martin asked, "If the plan to take Kyiv has failed, has the decisive battle of the war already been fought?"
"Only if Ukraine can prevent another decisive battle from being fought again," Petraeus replied. "This could be pivotal in the sense that it's perilous for Ukraine."
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The peril now looms in Eastern Ukraine, where Russia is reinforcing and concentrating its firepower in an attempt to encircle much of Ukraine's army. The outcome of the vicious battle for the city of Mariupol could be the key.
Petraeus said, "Mariupol has become the Ukrainian Alamo, fighting to the last defender, tying down considerable number of Russian battalions and making them pay for literally every block that they're taking. Once that does eventually fall, as tragically it appears will be the case, that will free up a number of Russian forces."
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"If [Putin] were to destroy the Ukrainian army in the East, would then the rest of the country be open to him?" Martin asked.
"I don't think so," he replied. "You're fighting an entire nation. There will be limits to how far they can go, and I don't expect that it would go more than the middle of the country. They'd love to get to the very center."
"Is it possible the Ukrainians could hold out?"
"If they can get the additional weapons, ammo, vehicles and so forth, absolutely, no question," said Petraeus. "And of course, they have this unbelievable determination, fortitude, creativity, resourcefulness. They're everything the Russians are not."
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President Zelensky, who has proved himself not just a brilliant communicator in chief but a savvy commander in chief, says the war is at a turning point.
Martin asked, "Would you say it's going to take weeks or months for this to play out?"
"It could be weeks; it could be months, depending on how bad the damage is," said Petraeus.
"You're basically describing a war of attrition?"
"There is a war of attrition that's going on, and again it's not just on the battlefield. It's also to a degree between what's happening in Ukraine and what's happening to Moscow and to the Russian economy, financial system, and business community."
And a war between two men, said Petraeus: "Between Vladimir Putin, who cannot seem to appear weak – he has to remain the strongman, infallible, unflappable, in control, the master of everything; and President Zelensky, who is leading a country that is fighting for its very survival."
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U.S. officials say one of them – Putin – is not being told the truth about what is happening on the battlefield.
"How does a war end when the leader isn't being told the truth?" asked Martin.
"Well, the leader isn't dumb," Petraeus said. "He has to recognize the reality of what has happened.
They did not achieve what they set out to achieve. Deep down, he realizes that he has plunged his country into a colossal mistake, and has demonstrated colossal misjudgment."
"Will he be sufficiently chastened so that he doesn't try something like this again?"
"I don't know that he will think that he is sufficiently chastened," Petraeus replied. "What he will be is sufficiently – we hope – sufficiently weakened."
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Story produced by Mary Walsh. Editor: George Pozderec.
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