WASHINGTON (AP) – Kyiv has been Russia’s defeat for centuries. The battle began unsuccessfully for the invaders and from there went down.
When President Vladimir Putin launched the war on February 24 after months of building up Ukraine’s borders, he sent hundreds of special helicopter helicopters – the best of Russia’s best special forces – to storm and capture the airfield with light protection. on the threshold of Kiev.
Other Russian forces have been striking across Ukraine, including in the direction of the eastern city of Kharkiv, as well as in the disputed Donbass region and along the Black Sea coast. But as a place of national power Kyiv was the main prize. Thus the onslaught of elite airborne troops during the war.
But Putin failed to achieve his goal of quickly defeating the Ukrainian army, which was superior in weapons and numbers. The Russians were ill-prepared for the Ukrainian resistance, unable to adapt to failure, failed to effectively combine air and ground operations, misjudged Ukraine’s ability to defend its skies, and disrupted key military functions such as planning and delivering supplies.
“It’s a really bad combination if you want to conquer the country,” said Peter Mansour, a retired army colonel and professor of military history at Ohio State University.
At least until Putin’s forces spread from Kiev to eastern Ukraine. Eventually, the Russian leader can achieve some of his goals. However, his failure to capture Kyiv will be remembered for a long time – for how he contradicted pre-war expectations and showed the strange weaknesses of military thought, which is one of the strongest in the world.
“It’s staggering,” said military historian Frederick Kagan of the Institute for War Studies, who said he knew no parallels with a major military power like Russia invading the country at the time it chose and failing miserably. .
On the first morning of the war, Russian Mi-8 attack helicopters flew south toward Kiev with the task of attacking the Gostomel airfield on the northwestern outskirts of the capital. After capturing the airfield, also known as Antonov Airport, the Russians planned to create a base from which to fly more troops and lightly armored vehicles within minutes of the heart of the country’s largest city.
It did not work. It is reported that several Russian helicopters were shot down by missiles before they reached Gostomel, and when stationed at the airfield, they suffered heavy losses from artillery fire.
Attempts to take control of a military air base in Vasilkov south of Kiev also met with fierce resistance, and several Russian heavy IL-76 transport planes with paratroopers were reportedly shot down by Ukrainian defenses.
Although the Russians eventually managed to control Gostomel airfield, fierce resistance from Ukrainians in the capital region forced a rethink of the invasion plan, based on the expectation that the Ukrainians would soon collapse, the West would slow down and Russian forces would fight easily.
Air assault missions in the enemy’s rear, such as those in Gostomel, are risky and difficult, as shown by the U.S. Army on March 24, 2003, when it sent more than 30 Apache attack helicopters to Iraq from Kuwait to strike an Iraqi Republican Guard division. . On their way the Apaches encountered small arms and anti-aircraft fire, which shot down one of the gels, damaged the others and forced the mission to stop. Despite this, the US military recovered from this failure and soon captured Baghdad.
The fact that the storming of Gostomel by the Russian 45th Guards Airborne Special Forces Brigade failed could not stand out in retrospect if Russia’s wider efforts had improved since then. But that did not happen.
The Russians did conduct small and unsuccessful probes in the center of Kiev, and later they tried at great cost to surround the capital, making their way further west. Despite the huge chances, the Ukrainians held their positions and fought back, deterring the Russians, and put into effective use a wide range of Western weapons, including portable anti-tank Javelin, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and more.
Last week, the Russians left the Gostomel airfield as part of a mass retreat to Belarus and Russia.
An incidental cover of the battle for Kyiv was the widespread saga of a Russian convoy of supplies, which stretched for tens of miles along the main road to the capital. Initially, this seemed an alarming sign for the Ukrainians, but they managed to attack elements of the column, which had limited off-road capabilities and thus eventually dispersed or otherwise became a non-factor in the battle.
“They have never replenished supplies of any value to Russian forces gathering around Kiev, they have never come to their aid,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. “The Ukrainians quickly stopped this convoy, being very agile, knocking out bridges, hitting vehicles on the head and stopping their movement.”
Mansour says the Russians have underestimated the number of troops they will need and have shown a “strange inability” to perform basic military functions. They are very wrong in estimating what it will take to win the battle for Kyiv, he says.
“It would be difficult, even if the Russian army proved its competence,” he said. “He has proved that he is completely incapable of waging a modern armored war.”
Not only Putin was surprised by the initial failures of his army. American and other Western officials believed that if the invasion took place, it would seem that Russia’s superior forces would cut through the Ukrainian army like a hot knife through butter. They could capture Kyiv in a few days and the entire country in a few weeks, although some analysts have questioned whether Putin estimates how much Ukrainian forces have gained from Western training, which intensified after Putin’s capture of Crimea in 2014 and the Donbas invasion.
On March 25, just a month after the invasion began, the Russians said they had achieved their goals in the Kiev region and would shift their focus to the separatist Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. Some suspected Putin’s ploy to gain time without abandoning his maximalist goals, but a few days later Kiev’s retreat was in sight.
Putin may still be able to refocus his military efforts on a narrower goal of expanding Russian control of the Donbas and possibly securing a land corridor from the Donbass to the Crimean peninsula. But his failure in Kiev has revealed weaknesses that suggest that Russia is unlikely to repeat attempts to remove the national capital in the near future.
“I think they learned a lesson,” Mansour said.