The city of Severodonetsk is likely to fall to Russian forces in the coming days. If so, it will be a victory wrapped in a defeat, surrounded by monumental hubris.
In war, there are setbacks just as much as successes. The trick is to make sure the latter outnumber the former.
But in war, nothing is guaranteed.
As Vladimir Putin has discovered to his great cost, once the dice are rolled and the national clash of wills descends on to the battlefield, firmly held certainties should no longer be expressed with quite as much confidence as they might have been before the shooting starts.
For weeks now, we have reported how Russia seems finally to have remembered how to wage a military campaign. The failure to sweep into Kyiv in the first hours of the war, coupled with the ignominious ejection of Moscow’s troops from the north of the country soon after, forced the Kremlin to think again.
Slowly, almost to the point of reluctance, the Russian army has rediscovered how to get its tanks working with the infantry, protected by air defence and artillery, facilitated by engineers, all under a hesitant blanket of cover from the air force.
The result has been a series of small territorial gains in the east of the Donbas.
After nearly 100 days of war, Russia seems on the brink of being able to claim victory over a medium-sized city in a pocket of eastern Ukraine. That qualifies only marginally as a military success.
Let them post their videos. Let them plant their flag on the rubble. They’ve paid for that small chunk of blasted moonscape with blood and treasure. But make no mistake, that it has taken the might of what’s left of the Russian military to pull off this small feat is an international embarrassment.
Even if we believe what the Kremlin says – and that is a very big “if” – and take it that capturing the Donbas had been the plan all along, there is still a very long way to go, even to achieve that much-reduced objective.
Russia has made no significant gains west of Popasna or south of Lyman for weeks and has had to call up reserves of ageing T-62 tanks – a vehicle so old it does not even have the same calibre main gun as the other tanks in the fleet, some of which date back to the Seventies.
Ukrainian authorities have reported in recent days a much-reduced tally of Russian casualties and destroyed tanks. That may be because Kyiv’s forces are running out of ammunition, particularly the feared US Javelin or Anglo-Swedish NLAW anti-tank missiles.
I doubt it. Were that to be the case, we should have expected Moscow to have made far greater territorial gains in recent days.
A more likely scenario is that the tanks and armoured personnel carriers (which account for many of the personnel casualty figures) are simply not there.
That does not mean Ukrainian forces could advance unimpeded – even a small amount of armour, well-positioned and protected, can dominate an area and hold up approaching infantry.
Russia seems to be throwing everything it can at taking the city of Severodonetsk. If it succeeds, it will be able to lay claim to the whole of the Luhansk oblast, the northern portion of the Donbas. However, to expect a force that has gone virtually nowhere for weeks to be able then to dust itself off and continue the march west is a fantasy.
The loss of the city will be a setback for Ukraine. They are having to dig deep to stay in the fight.
Putin, though, is finding that not everything is going his way either. His hubris has brought him to the point where he has to call upon ageing tanks and ageing men to achieve modest results.
Telegraph Media Group Limited