There's a well-known story about a young Vladimir Putin, published shortly after he first became President of Russia.

In a selection of essays about Mr Putin’s life and rise to power, he recounted a story of his youth growing up in what was then Leningrad, and is now St Petersburg.

The new president told of the large number of rats living in the corridors and stairwell of his apartment building and how he and his friends made a game of chasing them.

One day the young Putin pursued a particularly large rodent into a corner.

Initially thinking he had the upper hand, Putin was shocked and surprised when the rat, cornered and with no way out, flung itself at him.

The power balance had changed instantly and unexpectedly, and perhaps had taught the young Putin a lesson about the risks that become worthwhile when you have no other option.

It’s a tale which has been retold a lot in recent times, for obvious reasons. As this war progresses in a way he had not anticipated, and Putin feels he is the one who is cornered, what might he do?

As the West tries to figure out President Putin’s next move, the avenues open to him seem to be diminishing.

Ukrainian soldiers patrol in front of the Independence Monument during Russian attacks in Kyiv

President Putin is facing a war on several fronts. The first, of course, is in Ukraine, where an intense level of resistance has surprised the Kremlin and hampered what it appeared to believe would be a quick and straightforward military offensive.

He is also facing a battle to convince the Russian public that the war is legitimate and necessary. And he must convince many in his inner circle that the invasion has not been a serious strategic blunder, as the Russian economy begins to feel the impact of sanctions which have been far more severe than Moscow had anticipated.

A large part of convincing the Russian people he has done the right thing is to ensure that Vladimir Putin’s is the only version of events to which they have access. Control is key.

Russian media is banned from talking of a "war" but must instead use the phrase "special military operation".

Sanctions will start to take effect, with daily life in Russia already impacted. And Russian soldiers are dying, in larger numbers than Moscow had anticipated.

This week’s further clampdown on independent news media in Russia belies worries that the public will hear of events in Ukraine and wonder about why they have been taken into a war many of them will fail to understand.

Even in a country which has seen intense repression on a free press, recent developments are shocking, leading some analysts to categorise Russia as now having officially moved from an authoritarian state to a dictatorial state.

The mere discussion of the Ukraine invasion in a way deemed wrong by the Kremlin could result in up to 15 years in prison.

It is not hard to see what might have inspired the decision to clamp down even further on journalistic independence.

The BBC had reported soaring traffic to its Ukrainian and Russian speaking services as the war began with figures suggesting that the Russian language news site had tripled its number of users, going from just over three million users to almost 11 million users in the space of a couple of days.

Russian visitors to the English language BBC website also rose 252% in a few days. Controlling what people hear about the war will become harder, despite the media clampdown.

Sanctions will start to take effect, with daily life in Russia already impacted. And Russian soldiers are dying, in larger numbers than Moscow had anticipated.

Those soldiers have families, friends and communities in Russia who will know of their death and ask at least some questions about the "special military operation" in which they died.

There is also reason to believe that some of the criticism and ridicule Mr Putin has faced in the West is having an effect.

Vladimir Putin (C) speaks during his meeting with Aeroflot employees outside Moscow

This weekend he appeared at an event with the female staff of Aeroflot to mark International Women’s Day. Gone was the extreme social distancing which was seen the week before as he met his own generals.

Despite online speculation about whether there might have been a doctoring of the pictures of Mr Putin’s presence at the Aeroflot event, one thing is clear.

He was obviously stung by the discussion in the West about whether he had become paranoid and aloof during the pandemic, typified by a ridiculously long table to meet world leaders and his own military leaders.

As the war continues, dissent will emerge from unexpected quarters.

The use of chemical weapons on the residents of Aleppo is a bleak reminder that once the rules of war have been put aside, anything is possible.

This week Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, told the BBC’s World At One radio programme that the invasion was a major tragedy and that he found it "very difficult to consider any benefits that Russia can possibly get out of this operation...and...I think that the side effects are likely to be much more serious than any possible gains".

Mr Kortunov is not a Putin critic. He has worked with the president and knows his thinking.

Mr Kortunov says Mr Putin "will need something to declare victory" and believes some kind of third party mediation might find a resolution, suggesting former German Chancellor Angela Merkel as an individual who has dealt with Mr Putin before.

The difficulty in finding this "diplomatic off-ramp" that is so often spoken of is that exhaustive talks between Mr Putin and a variety of international leaders in the days before war began failed to provide a resolution, leaving little sign that an option can now be found which would allow Russia to save face, and the violence to end.

And saving face is crucial. The one certainty for Vladimir Putin is that defeat in Ukraine would mean the end for his leadership.

For someone who has, for two decades now, cultivated ways to stay in power, that is not an option he will contemplate.

With a military campaign which has gone far worse than anyone imagined, Mr Putin is running out of options.

A military column appeared on the outskirts of Kyiv last week (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)

A 64km military column which appeared on the outskirts of Kyiv last week has stayed where it is, apparently unable to move due to resourcing issues.

Videos of Russian soldiers shooting at Ukrainians who simply continue to walk towards the gunfire have gone around the world.

Ill-equipped and badly trained Russian forces struggle to reach their goal, and then appear to struggle to hold it when they get there.

It leaves the destruction of Ukraine’s towns and cities and the besieging of major urban centres as the only viable options for a Russian army who are fighting a battle they never expected.

Already the Ukrainian call for more arms to help fight Russia appears to be gaining ground in places like the United States, where the issue seems to be doing the impossible, uniting Republicans and Democrats.

If Mr Putin began this war to restore the greatness of the former Soviet Union, the last fortnight has done the opposite, exposing instead the weaknesses of his armed forces to international surprise and ridicule.

But it is at this very point that Mr Putin’s next move might become the most drastic, and those lessons learned in the stairwells of his Leningrad apartment block may return.

The use of chemical weapons on the residents of Aleppo is a bleak reminder that once the rules of war have been put aside, anything is possible.

Much has been said about us having lived through ten days that changed Europe. The days ahead look set to change it even more.