Mr Putin’s first mistake was to underestimate his enemy. Perhaps he believed his own propaganda: that Ukraine is not a real country, but a fake erected by the CIA and run by crooks who are despised by the people they govern. If he expected Ukraine to collapse at the first show of Russian force, he could not have been more wrong.
Mr Putin’s second mistake was to mismanage his own armed forces. His air force has so far failed to dominate the skies. He has laboured to reassure his people that Russia is not engaged in a war, but just what he calls a “denazification” operation. Soldiers, unsure of what they are supposed to be doing, have turned up in Ukraine expecting to be welcomed as liberators. If he orders troops to slaughter their Ukrainian kin in large numbers, they may not obey. If many of his troops die in the attempt to crush Ukrainian cities, as is likely, he will not be able to cover it up at home.
And his third mistake was to underestimate the West. Again, perhaps he believed that it was too decadent and self-absorbed to muster a response. As a dictator who may find it hard to understand that people’s faith in democracy is genuine, he has almost certainly been surprised by the upwelling of popular support for Ukraine–the support that sees Londoners stand to the Ukrainian anthem and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin lit up in the blue and gold of the Ukrainian flag.