The term “rope a dope” is most commonly associated with the famous heavyweight boxing match in 1974 between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman known as the Rumble in the Jungle. The unbeaten Foreman was known for his powerful punching ability and was heavily favored against the older but more savvy Ali. Throughout the beginning and middle rounds of the fight Ali’s strategy was to allow Foreman to continue to throw punches while Ali leaned back against the ropes, avoiding, deflecting, and absorbing Foreman’s blows. Ali’s hope was that Foreman would punch himself out, exhaust himself so that Ali could counterattack in the later rounds and knock Foreman out. And it worked. By the eighth round Foreman was exhausted from throwing wild punches at the well defended Ali, and as Foreman’s defenses fell Ali pounced and knocked the stronger man out.
For many months now the once vaunted Russian Army has thrown wave after wave of men and machines at the Ukrainian forces defending the small city of Bahkmut in the Donestsk Oblast. Prior to Russia’s invasion of February 24, 2022, Bahkmut was a relatively insignificant little mining town with a population of roughly 75,000. After the Russians were defeated in their efforts to take the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv and were then driven back from Kharkiv and out of Kherson, the Russians set their sights on a victory in Bahkmut. For months now thousands upon thousands of Russians have fought and died in Bahkmut and surrounding villages with very little or anything tangible being gained by these sacrifices. Verifiable numbers are hard to come by but it has been estimated that for every Ukrainian casualty the Russians have suffered five to seven. Ukrainian military strategists understand that defending risks fewer lives than attacking.
Now, with spring approaching, it appears as if the Russians have punched themselves out in Bahkmut. Putin has exhausted not only Prigozhin’s Wagner Group mercenaries but also the regular Russian military. All to take a relatively insignificant mid-sized city – unsuccessfully. The Ukrainians have once again brilliantly played the Russians.
Exactly when and where the Ukrainian counterattack will take place is unknown. But it will come. Using western tanks with western trained crews the Ukrainian counterattack will not be the slow lumbering bludgeon we’ve seen from the Russians in Bahkmut and elsewhere, but a fast-moving surgical strike toward the Sea of Azov, cutting off Russian supply lines across the land bridge to Crimea and creating a direct threat to the Kerch Bridge.
Russia will be knocked out, although they won’t admit it or stop fighting. The Russian leadership under Putin will continue to stagger on and lash out for a time, perhaps even for years, but everyone else will know the war has been lost. Rebuilding after this most senseless of wars can hopefully then begin.