Russia delays gaining airspace from Ukraine, limiting war gains | Radio WGN 720

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In times of war, quickly gaining control of airspace is crucial. Russia’s failure to do so in Ukraine, despite its great military strength, came as a surprise and may help explain how Ukraine has so far prevented a rout.

The stalemate in the skies is part of the shortcomings of the Russian battle, including logistical breakdowns, which destabilized Moscow in its invasion.

Typically, an invading force would initially seek to destroy or at least cripple the target country’s air and missile defenses, since dominance of the skies allows ground forces to operate more efficiently and with fewer casualties. US military officials had assumed that Russia would use its electronic warfare and cyber capabilities to blindside and cripple Ukraine’s air defenses and military communications.

One possible explanation for Russia’s failure to do so is that President Vladimir Putin built his war strategy on the assumption that Ukrainian defenses would fall back easily, allowing Russian forces to quickly capture Kiev, the capital, and to crush Ukrainian forces to the east and south without having to achieve air superiority.

If that was the plan, it failed, though at this point the overall trajectory of the conflict still seems to favor the larger and better-equipped invasion force. The invasion is less than a week old, and Russia has still not committed to battle the full force it had mustered on the border. A senior US official said on Monday that about a quarter of the force had not entered Ukraine.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments, said Ukraine had retained the majority of its surface-to-air missile systems – used to shoot down planes – and the majority of its helicopters and planes. One of the reasons why they have not yet been destroyed, the official said, may be that Ukraine’s air defenses were not centrally located and may have been moved throughout the country.

It appears Russian commanders have become frustrated with the pace of their battlefield gains and their inability to gain complete air dominance, the official said. In response, they could consider more aggressive and larger-scale attacks on Kiev and reduce the remaining substantial Ukrainian air defenses.

When he announced his decision to attack on February 24, Putin gave no timetable for completing what he called not a war but a “special military operation”. According to American estimates, he had assembled more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders.

“We believe they are a few days behind what they were hoping for” at this point, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday, five days after the start of a war that is the most important in Europe since the Second World War. “It’s clear, yes, the Russians had their own challenges and they encountered resistance that we don’t think they fully expected.”

Philip Breedlove, a retired air force general who commanded NATO forces in Europe from 2013 to 2016, said Russia had launched major missile attacks on sites and Ukrainian air defense airfields in the first days. And yet, the Ukrainians have found creative ways to preserve their air and missile defenses.

“I’m pleasantly surprised that Ukraine’s air defense capability, though diminished, has lasted this long,” Breedlove said. He added that Russia could still bring more fighters and bombers into the conflict, even if Ukraine acquires Stinger missiles and other air defense weapons from Western countries.

According to Breedlove, the weaponry supplied to Ukraine by the United States and many other countries in recent weeks, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, has given Kiev a major boost. He recalled that when Western countries began in 2014 to provide radars used to detect and locate the origin of artillery and mortar attacks, some wondered if the Ukrainians could put them to good use.

“It wasn’t long after they got them and started working with them that they taught us new tactics, techniques and procedures on how to use them,” said Breedlove, who was then head of NATO.

“From what I have read and seen, the Ukrainians have done a pretty good job of inflicting costs on the Russian airborne forces,” he said.

More broadly, in addition to failing to destroy or pin down the Ukrainian air force, the Russians had failed to capture a major Ukrainian city on Monday and were advancing much more slowly than expected, Pentagon officials said these days. last days.

There were still signs of an escalation of the conflict. Fighting raged in towns and cities scattered across the country. The strategic southern port city of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov was “hanging on”, said Zelenskyy adviser Oleksiy Arestovich. An oil depot was reportedly bombed in the eastern city of Sumy.

Video from Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, shows bombed-out residential areas, with apartment buildings rocked by repeated, powerful explosions.

“There are two fundamental ways to describe the slow Russian advance in Ukraine,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a Washington think tank. “One explanation is deliberate restraint. The other explanation is poor execution. We don’t know enough to identify which is the most plausible explanation, but it’s important to recognize that the Russians have all sorts of options they haven’t yet taken advantage of,” including a use more intensive cyberattacks against the Ukrainian command and control system and the air. tusks.

In its latest assessment, the Institute for the Study of War said Moscow likely recognized that its initial approach had failed and was shifting additional combat power to Ukraine.

“The tide of the war could change quickly in Russia’s favor if the Russian military correctly identifies its failures and quickly addresses them, given the overwhelming net combat power advantage Moscow enjoys,” he said. he declares.

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

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