The Kiev offensive has been the most dramatic Russian advance thus far and might prove to be the most decisive offensive of the war. The main Russian thrust in this offensive has been on the right bank of the Dneiper River towards Kiev’s northwestern side. In a series of daring air assaults on Ukrainian airports just outside of Kiev, in conjunction with a mechanized column that moved south through the Pripyat marshes, Russia successful established a forward position about 30 kilometers from the center of Kiev. This was all accomplished in just over 24 hours after the invasion began. Such an advanced forward provides Russia with a strong position from where it can press further against Kiev, and all before the Ukrainians could have mounted a proper defense in the Pripyat marshes.
The main VDV (Russian airborne forces) assault was a helicopter-based landing on the Antonov Airport at the town of Gostomel, located only 35 kilometers northwest from the center of Kiev. This landing came under a heavy Ukrainian counterattack, and initially, there were reports the Russian force was wiped out. It is still unclear what exactly happened, but it seems some of the Russian VDV survived the Ukrainian counter-attack, suffered very heavy casualties but were not entirely eliminated. They instead retreated from the airport to nearby woods and villages. After holding out for over 24 hours, the VDV at Gostomel were eventually met by the Russian forces that had advanced south through Chernobyl and the Pripyat marshes. Once linked up, Russian forces secured the area around the three villages Gostomel, Vorzel and Bucha, and then began to push on Irpin towards Kiev.
On day 3 of the war (February 27th), in the early morning, the Russian VDV attempted another ambitious air assault, this time against the Vasilykiv Airbase located southwest of Kiev. Unlike the operation as Gostomel, this air assault failed with the VDV likely being wiped out.
What was the purpose of these highly ambitious air assaults is unclear and debatable. Some think Russia was attempted to seize key airports near Kiev that would create an air bridge. With an air bridge established, Russia could rapidly deploy forces from Belarus to the outskirts of Kiev. From there, the Russians could have moved rapidly against Kiev, capturing the city and the Ukrainian government, delivering a decapitation strike against Ukraine. This explanation is fully possible, and I will discuss Russia’s war plans in greater detail ahead. What is also possible is that these airborne operations were meant primarily to facilitate the rapid advance of Russian forces driving south from Belarus up to the outskirts of Kiev.
I believe Russia plans to besiege Kiev instead of storming it, because of how Ukrainian authorities are conducting the defense of the city. In response to the very quick arrival of Russian forces to the gates of Kiev, local authorities began the mass distribution of small arms and began forming territorial militias to defend the city. Last I read, 25,000 rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition, along with grenades and anti-tank weapons have been distributed to civilians in Kiev. These territorial militias are not well trained or well-armed, yet they will make any Russian assault on Kiev incredibly difficult. They simply need to hide in buildings and shoot at Russian soldiers as they come into the city. Due to their large numbers, they will make storming Kiev a nightmare for the Russians. Kiev is a large city of around 2-3 million people, with many high-rise apartment building spread throughout. Every single building can be turned into a fortress by the Ukrainian army or by territorial forces. The Russians are facing the prospect of urban warfare in Kiev comparable to what happened in Grozny during the Chechen Wars. For both military and political reasons this is a very bad scenario for the Russians, and are likely hoping to avoid it at all costs.
During the first few nights of the war there was intense gunfire throughout Kiev, many videos were posting online of ongoing gunfights which gave many the false impression that the Russian army was already storming the city. In reality these gunfights were likely the result of criminals and gangs who had received weapons under the auspicious of urban defense, but instead were going to town on each other in gang warfare. This indicates that not only will Russia encounter intense urban warfare if its forces attempt to enter Kiev, but Russian occupation will be met with mass lawlessness and general chaos thanks to now heavily armed civilian population. For reasons I will explain further ahead, I believe Russia will avoid entering Kiev for the time being. Instead they will encircle the city, placing it under siege.
Despite the failure at Vasilykiv airbase, the Kiev offensive has thus far been very successful. To advance 300 kilometers through very difficult terrain up the enemy’s capital within the first day of the war is a great success. That being said, the Russians face two challenges in this offensive. First, in terms of how the people of Kiev could have respond to the Russian invasion, their mass mobilization into territorial defense militias is likely the worst possible scenario from the Russian standpoint. For reasons already stated this will make capturing Kiev very difficult. The other problem is logistical. Currently Russia controls none of the rail lines that run from Belarus into Ukraine towards Kiev, and as a result their entire supply line is based on trucks. Transporting goods by rail is much quicker and efficient than by trucks on a road. Until Russia can secure control over the rail lines running from Belarus to Kiev these logistical difficulties will control. The well reported 40 mile long convoy of vehicles stretching from the Belarusian border down to Kiev is indicative of Russia’s logistical problems in this offensive. This supply column has been used as proof of Russia’s inferior logistical capabilities, but this is frankly an unfair assessment. Russia is attempting to supplying a major offensive operation that is over 300 kilometers away from its supply depots, without using railways and instead using truck transports on a few narrow roads. Under such conditions, logistical bottlenecks are inevitable. Looking forward, I strongly believe Russia will seek to capture the railways, while simultaneously moving to encircle Kiev.
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I suspect the Russian leadership is dissatisfied with the slow advance on this axis, and strongly desires Kharkov to be least encircled as soon as possible. The reason I believe this, is because advancing past Kharkov is crucial to encircling the large Ukrainian forces located in the Donbass region. I strongly believe the next objective of Russian forces advancing past Kharkov is the city of Dnepropetrovsk on the Dnieper River. In conjunction with Russian forces advancing northeastwards from Crimea towards Zaporozhe located just south of Dnepropetrovsk on the Dnieper River, these two groups of Russian forces will achieve the encirclement the aforementioned Ukrainian army units near Donbass. With the forces of Lugansk and Donetsk pushing westward, the Ukrainian army near Donbass will be easily liquidated.
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The break out from Crimea was supported by amphibious landings. Quickly after entering Ukraine, Russian forces split into two groups moving on different operational axes. One group has advanced northeast and thus far reached: Vasylivka, Orikhiv, Polohy, and Mariupol. I believe the primary objectives of Russian forces here are Mariupol, which is now under siege, and Zaporozhe. Mariupol is being held by a Ukrainian militia force called the Azov Battalion. Often described as a neo-Nazi group, they are at the very least ideological fanatics. Reportedly they are preventing civilians from leaving Mariupol, and will likely fight to the death. Due to the uncompromising nature of their opponents, Russian forces will likely be forced to level much of the city in order to secure it.
Another common narrative which quickly sprung up is that Russia is either losing the war, or at the very least severely under performing in its military operations. By looking at the map and seeing the full extent of Russian gains in the south and north, this is clearly not true. This is especially true in the north at Kiev, where in just over 24 hours the Russians had established a forward position in Kiev’s suburbs. Normally, if the enemy reaches the gates of your capital city within just over 24 hours, the war is as good as lost.
Nevertheless, it is fully understandable why this line of thinking has emerged. Looking at the Russian military as a whole, it has far more firepower than the Ukrainians, especially so in aviation and standoff missiles. Considering how overwhelming Russian firepower potentially is, it is curious they have not advanced further than they have, especially so on the Kharkov axis. This is because Russia has not been using all the firepower it has available, such as rocket artillery and fixed wing aircraft. Since the war began, Russia has been essentially fighting with one arm tied behind its back. There are several reasons why this is.
First, why is Russia limiting its use of fixed wing aircraft? This is because America is providing radar and signals intelligence to Ukraine, and combined with Ukraine’s extensive air defense network, it is simply too dangerous for Russia to fully employ its air force. Normally, Russia would be able to detect Ukrainian radar stations and target those radars with anti-radiation missiles. With the radars neutralized, the Ukrainian anti-air system would be effectively blind. The Russian air force could then establish air superiority and fully employ their ground-attack aircraft. After years of what was essentially live-fire practice in Syria, the Russian air force is very capable in assisting ground operations and would have a decisive effect against Ukrainian forces. Yet, this has not happened, the Ukrainians are not even turning on their radars. Instead American and NATO airborne early warning planes are flying near enough to the Ukrainian border in Polish and Romanian airspace where they can detect any activity by the Russian air force. They then feed this intelligence to the Ukrainians. There is a BBC news report video of this on YouTube if anyone would to see it, the plane itself is quite interesting link: