Russia was defeated in the Battle of Kiev by a surprise attack on a Ukrainian airport

A few days after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kyiv, there are burnt remnants of Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and other equipment that exploded and were abandoned in the northern suburbs of the Ukrainian capital.

The ruins are blatant evidence of an attack to overthrow the Ukrainian government, but a humiliating mistake for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s failure to seize capital came on the heels of a series of erroneous judgments and strategic errors: the emphasis on vulnerable armored columns, the use of insufficient air force, the offensive plan that exaggerated supply lines and – most importantly – the clear miscalculation of the Ukrainians. Resistance and stability.

But experts, nowhere else, are immersed in Putin’s view of the success of the lightning strike: Antonov Airport.

A Ukrainian soldier walks past the destroyed aircraft Antonov On-225, the world’s largest aircraft.

(Vadim Girta / Associated Press)

This sprawling cargo airport and military base 15 miles northwest of Kiev should be the main arena and logistics hub for the Russian-sponsored war-defining center within the capital.

The Ukrainian government must fall and President Volodymyr Zhelensky must be killed, captured or deported. Experts say Putin plans to install a puppet leader.

The thought is that the sudden collapse of the central government will provoke deep chaos in the fighting Ukrainian factions in the east and south, leading to widespread surrender.

John Spencer, a retired U.S. Army Major who heads the Urban War Studies at the Madison Policy Forum Think Tank in New York, said, “They should enter the center of Kiev as soon as possible and hoist the Russian flag over the government building.” At that time you won the war. Yes, you can start the biggest uprising in history. But you won the battle.

Parts of the destroyed aircraft

Parts of the destroyed plane at Antonov Airport in Hostomal, Ukraine.

(Philip Dana / Associated Press)

He said the capture of the airport was “critical” to Russian strategy. Antonov has a long runway, which is ideal for flying goods and troops on heavy transport aircraft.

“You need airports, tanks, engineers, to bring the necessary armor,” Spencer said.

Unlike the US offensive in Baghdad in 2003, Russia launched its ground offensive immediately, first striking down military bases, command and control structures and other strategic bases from the air. No shock or awe. That decision continues to confuse many.

“Russia’s days of airstrikes, precision missile strikes, we all expected to do things like that -” softening, “said Dmitry Gorenberg, an analyst at CNA, a think tank in Arlington, VA. But then they started the ground operation without waiting for a few days. I do not know why they were in such a hurry.

Russia used a lot of air power to attack the airport.

On the morning of February 24 – the first day that Putin called his “special operation” – low-flying Russian Mi-8 attack helicopters appeared on the airport and began firing rockets. Smoke billowed from the airport. Russian paratroopers sent by helicopter quickly divert public transport outside the airport gates.

This satellite image shows an overview of the Antonov Airport in Hostomal, Ukraine on March 31, 2022.

Satellite photo of Antonov Airport, which is said to have been the main base and logistics hub for the Russian push on the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. But those plans failed in the face of fierce Ukrainian opposition.

(Maxer Technologies)

By all accounts, the attempt to capture the air base early in the war helped complete a future pincer operation in the capital with nearby motorized columns.

“The initial idea was that cargo planes with paratroopers and vehicles would land here, and it should have been the gateway to Kiev,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Denis Monastirsky told reporters on Friday.

Once the airport is secured, Russia can “begin to deploy many more troops and manage checkpoints in the middle of Kiev,” said Jonathan Iyal, co-director of the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in London. “If you think about it, I think if they had won, the war would have gone much differently.”

A day after the initial attack, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov announced that he had sent 200 helicopters to take control of Moscow airport.

In fact, officials here say the fighting continued for several days at the airport, with Ukrainian forces shooting down several helicopters, even as the Moscow tide flew in waves.

Weeks of fierce fighting turned the airport into a post-war dystopian arena, scattered with spent ammunition, rockets, Russian ration boxes, gas masks and burnt and torn uniforms.

The most notable monument to the fight was the broken Hulk of the Antonov An-225.

The six-engine Behimot, long the largest aircraft in the world, is known in Ukrainian as Miriam or Dream, and was a source of intense national pride. Not anymore.

A Ukrainian soldier touches the nose of an Antonov An-225 aircraft destroyed during the fighting.

A Ukrainian soldier touches the nose of an Antonov An-225 destroyed during a battle at Antonov Airport in Ukraine.

(Vadim Girta / Associated Press)

The plane looks like it was cut off by a giant can opener, its fuse cut into the black of the wires and metal, the yellow and blue Ukrainian colors still visible outside the cockpit.

Russia finally secured the airport, but its forces continued to fire, according to Ukrainian officials.

Russia has never been able to land large transport planes to strengthen the besieged forces in the Kiev region. Instead of advancing to the center of the capital, Russian troops were fighting for their lives at the air base.

“It was a turning point,” Iyal said.

With Zelensky and the Ukrainian government still in power, the Russian offensive columns – lacking the expected redistribution and reinforcement – were trapped in the dense northern suburbs of the capital.

Ukrainian troops used Western-provided javelin portable anti-tank systems and Turkish-provided drones to take over Russian armor, most of which are now rusting in the suburbs of the capital.

Moscow has somehow not expected the effect of sophisticated equipment and training received by Ukrainian forces from the West in recent years. Experts say Russia’s multi-pronged offensive against the well-armed enemy has clearly been reduced.

“They tried to do more,” Gorenberg said. “If they had focused on a purpose like taking Kiev they could have done better.”

At the Antonov airport, a Russian military vehicle was destroyed by a Russian military vehicle with a Russian bearded by a Ukrainian soldier.

A Ukrainian servant uses his weapon to capture a Russian port that was recovered from a destroyed Russian military vehicle at Antonov Airport.

(Vadim Girta / Associated Press)

Putin could be more successful as his forces shift their efforts to the east, where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting for years. But Russia’s retreat here has strengthened Ukraine’s hope that its troops will be able to contain and defeat its enormous enemy.

Such a comment would no doubt make fun of Putin. The Russian leader has long questioned the independence of Ukraine, which has publicly declared its territory, and the people, the expansion of historic Russia.

In the eyes of some, Putin’s distorted view of Ukraine may have led to a miscalculation of what needs to be done to win this war – and to ignore the notion that Ukrainians will resist Russian aggression.

“At the bottom of the story, the essence is that Mr. Putin believed the nonsense he was talking about, that is, Ukraine was a fake state kidnapped by a small mob – the moment you put your finger on it. “Everything else followed this original error.”

On the streets of Kiev, the retreat was greeted with relief and pride, and many agree: Putin underestimated the will of the people to stand up against Russian forces.

“I can not get into Putin’s head, but I think he’s going to pick up the key in three days,” said restaurant owner Vitaly Hemich, 28. “But our nation is now united. That is the main reason why his plan failed. “

Ilona Shubovich, Special Correspondent in Vinnitsia, Ukraine, contributed to the report.

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