Russia-Ukraine war. Kyiv’s fiasco: how was the battle that went from bad to worse for Putin

WASHINGTON (AP) .- That of Kiev is a defeat of historical proportions for the Russians. The campaign got off to a bad start and went from bad to worse.

When the Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his attack on Ukraine on February 24 After months of border preparation, he sent hundreds of elite soldiers – the best of the “spetsnaz” special forces – by helicopter to capture a poorly defended airport on the outskirts of kyiv.

Other units were advancing in various sectors of Ukraine, including the eastern city of Kharkiv, the disputed Donbass region and points on the Black Sea. The big prize, however, was Kiev, the seat of power. For this reason they sent special forces of the air force in the first hours of the offensive.

Putin, however, did not achieve his goal of promptly annihilating a much weaker Ukrainian army, without weapons or troops comparable to those of the Russians. The invading forces were not prepared for Ukraine’s resistance and did not adapt, they failed to coordinate their ground and air operations, they failed to anticipate Ukraine’s ability to defend its airspace, and they failed to anticipate Ukraine’s ability to defend its airspace. failed in basic military functions such as supply chain planning and implementation.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows troops and military vehicles deployed in Ozera, Ukraine, northeast of Antonov Airport, during the Russian invasion on Thursday 10 March 2022.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows troops and military vehicles deployed in Ozera, Ukraine, northeast of Antonov Airport, during the Russian invasion on Thursday 10 March 2022.Maxar Technologies

“It’s a bad combination if you want to conquer a country”, said Peter Mansoor, a retired US Army general and professor of military history at Ohio State University.

At least for now, the Russians are moving forces from Kiev to the eastern region. In the long run, Putin could achieve some of his goals. The Kiev fiasco, however, will be remembered for a long time, especially for the shortcomings it uncovered in an army that is supposed to be one of the most powerful in the world.

“It’s amazing,” said military historian Frederick Kagan of the United States Institute for War Studies, who says he knows no parallel where a military power like Russia invades another country when it thinks it has everything ready and fails to subdue it.

On the first morning of the war, Russian Mi-8 combat helicopters flew over Kiev on a mission to capture Hostomel airport, on the outskirts of the capital, in the northwest. The capture of the small airport, also known as Antonov, would have allowed them to have a base for the transfer of soldiers and vehicles to the entrance of the largest city in the country.

But things did not go as planned. Several Russian helicopters are said to have been hit by missiles before reaching Hostomel and that when they finally landed on their runways, they suffered heavy casualties from artillery fire.

Ukrainian soldiers try to recover parts of a Russian armored vehicle in Bucha, Ukraine on Sunday, April 3, 2022.
Ukrainian soldiers try to recover parts of a Russian armored vehicle in Bucha, Ukraine on Sunday, April 3, 2022.Daniel Berehulak – NYTNS

Another attack to seize Vasylkiv air base south of kyiv also met with strong resistance. Several Il-76s carrying paratroopers are said to have been shot down by the Ukrainians.

Although the Russians ended up taking over Hostomel airport, fierce resistance from Kiev forced them to reconsider a plan that assumed Ukraine would fall quickly, the West would accept it, and Russian forces would not encounter a strong resistance.

Airstrikes behind enemy lines, such as the one on Hostomel, are risky and complicated, as became clear when the United States sent 30 Apache helicopters to Iraq from Kuwait in 2003 to attack an Iraqi Republican Guard division. Along the way, helicopters were targeted by small arms and anti-aircraft equipment. One Apache was shot down and others were damaged, so the mission was aborted. Regardless, US forces quickly captured Baghdad.

The failure of the 45th Russian Special Forces Air Brigade to fulfill its entry mission could have gone unnoticed if things improved. But it wasn’t like that.

The Russians made some unsuccessful attempts to penetrate the heart of Kyiv and then attempted to surround the capital, venturing further west. Against all odds, the Ukrainians stood still and the Russians stopped, very efficiently using weapons provided by the West, including portable anti-tank equipment, shoulder-mounted Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and much more.

Last week the Russians left Hostomel as part of a much larger retreat.

A memorable aspect of the battle for Kiev was the presence of a publicized audience Russian supply convoy of several kilometers on one of the main routes to the capital. He initially frightened the Ukrainians, but his forces managed to launch attacks and disperse the caravan to such an extent that it did not affect the war.

The enigmatic convoy of Russian troops that was ultimately useless
The enigmatic convoy of Russian troops that was ultimately useless

“At no time did they offer relevant supplies to the forces deployed around Kiev, they never supplied anything,” said US Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. “The Ukrainians stopped that caravan quite quickly, breaking down bridges, attacking the vanguard and managing very nimbly.”

Mansoor says the Russians underestimated the number of troops they would need and demonstrated a “shocking inability” to perform basic military functions. They miscalculated what they needed to capture Kiev, insured.

“It would have been tough even if the Russian military had been competent,” he said. “But he proved unable to wage a modern war.”

Putin is not the only one surprised by his army’s initial stumbling block. Western experts predicted that, in the event of an invasion, Ukraine would fall shortly and the Russians would take the capital within days and the country within weeks. Some analysts have questioned whether Putin had adequately weighed the level of training Ukrainians received from the West, especially after the Russian capture of Crimea and his foray into the Donbass.

A convoy of Russian military vehicles is seen as the vehicles move towards the border in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on February 23, 2022 in the Russian border town of Rostov.
A convoy of Russian military vehicles is seen as the vehicles move towards the border in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on February 23, 2022 in the Russian border town of Rostov.Anadolu Agency – Getty

On March 25, a month after the invasion began, the russians claimed to have achieved their goals in the kyiv region and would have focused on the breakaway Donbas area in eastern ukraine. Some speculated that Putin wanted to buy time without giving up on his goal, but in a few days the withdrawal from Kiev was impossible to disguise.

Putin could consider simpler goals, such as securing control of the Donbass and perhaps creating a land passage between the Donbass and the Crimean peninsula. The Kiev fiasco and the shortcomings of the Russian military, however, suggest that they are unlikely to try to capture Kiev in the short term.

“I think they have learned their lesson,” Mansoor said.

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