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UKRAINE: Fight for Gostomel Airfield Emerges as Crucial Early Battle

Posted on | February 24, 2022 | Comments Off on UKRAINE: Fight for Gostomel Airfield Emerges as Crucial Early Battle

It’s now about 3 a.m. in Ukraine, and the fight for control of an airfield in the northwest suburbs of Kyiv has become a focus of the war effort against the Russian invasion. Early Thursday, it was reported that elite Russian paratroopers (VDV) had seized control of the airfield at Gostomel. This force was estimated at about 150 troops, and the obvious goal was to use Gostomel as a base for landing more Russian forces. While reports of the battle are confused and preliminary, it appears that Ukrainian forces counterattacked, shot down some Russian helicopters, and have so far been able to prevent the Russians from landing reinforcements. Initial claims that the Russian force at the airfield had been “destroyed” were later clarified; it now seems that the battle at Gostomel is continuing. It’s easy to understand how crucial this battle is, simply by looking at a map. If the Russians could gain control of the Gostomel airfield, they could score a quick knock-out of the Ukrainian capital as part of what is being called their “decapitation” strategy.

U.S. officials are pessimistic about Ukraine’s chances:

Three U.S. officials have told Newsweek they expect Ukraine’s capital Kyiv to fall to incoming Russian forces within days, and the country’s resistance to be effectively neutralized soon thereafter.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Moscow’s focus, as revealed in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s references to a “special military operation” to “demilitarize” the neighboring country, would be to encircle Ukrainian forces and force them to surrender or be destroyed. They expect Kyiv to be taken within 96 hours, and then the leadership of Ukraine to follow in about a week’s time.
And Russia’s thunderous attacks on Ukrainian government and military institutions, paired with reports of ground personnel seeking to take strategic points, including the Chernobyl nuclear facility, appeared to only be the initial phase of what may be a more comprehensive ground campaign.
One former senior U.S. intelligence officer with extensive experience dealing with Russia expressed a similar sentiment.
“After the air and artillery end and the ground war really starts, I think Kyiv falls in just a few days,” the former senior U.S. intelligence officer told Newsweek on the condition of anonymity as well.
“The military may last slightly longer,” the former intelligence officer added, “but this isn’t going to last long.”
Afterward, the senior U.S. intelligence officer said the next stages may be determined by U.S. President Joe Biden’s capability and willingness to risk further provoking Moscow by supporting partisan efforts on behalf of a potential Ukrainian resistance.
“Then it either becomes a robust insurgency or it doesn’t, depending largely on Biden,” the former senior U.S. intelligence officer said.
A source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government, who also asked not to be named, agreed with the U.S. assessment that Kyiv could be surrounded within 96 hours. But the source did not believe Zelenskyy’s government would collapse.
Asked by Newsweek whether the government was confident it could break a possible Russian encirclement, the source said, “I think it’s too early to say…They say Ukraine is holding better than they expected.”

It is not necessary, from a strategic standpoint, for Ukrainian forces to resist all the Russian forces everywhere, so long as some Russians are stopped somewhere. That is to say, so long as Ukrainians keep fighting — inflicting casualties on the Russian invaders — the mere loss of territory means little. Being outnumbered and outgunned, Ukraine’s strategy is to drag the war out and make Russia pay a price for its aggression.

The United States can help the Ukraine resistance hang on:

Ukraine’s defense minister made a direct plea to the U.S. Congress on Thursday to send his besieged nation anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles through Poland to help it repel Russia’s military assault on Ukraine.
Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov, in a video dated Thursday and posted to YouTube by Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said Ukrainian forces are protecting Europe and would fight for their own country but need support.
“We need as much Stinger [anti-aircraft] and anti-tank weapons as possible,” Reznikov said, seated at a conference table with a Ukrainian flag behind him. “In order to provide for reliable procurement of equipment, you may deliver it to Poland. From there we will transport them across the land and quickly saturate our defense.”

This is a no-brainer. Just a few hundred of these weapons, in the hands of trained troops, could be enough to turn Russia’s Ukrainian adventure into a hopeless quagmire. How many attack helicopters does Russia have? And how many of them would have to get shot down over Ukraine before Putin’s generals decide the price is too high?

UPDATE 8:30 p.m. ET: Translated from a Ukrainian outlet:

In the evening of February 24 near the Gostomel airfield, the Russian occupiers were repeatedly attacked by the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. . . .
The enemy landed a Russian landing party from several dozen combat helicopters to capture a bridgehead near the capital.
“Su-24M bombers, Su-24MR scouts and Su-25 attack planes fired powerful rocket and bomb strikes at them several times ,” said press officer Yuriy Ignat.
As of the evening, the Armed Forces recaptured the airfield from the aggressor, but after midnight explosions were heard in that direction again.
“The Ukrainian Defense Forces, including aircraft, tanks and artillery, are not allowing the enemy to carry out their plan and are successfully destroying the occupiers,” he said.
In addition, in the air battle with the Ukrainian Su-27, the Russians lost two Su-30 CM fighters.

None of this is independently confirmed, but it is further indication that the fight at this crucial airfield is serious.

UPDATE 9:35 p.m. ET: My remark that “the mere loss of territory means little” to the Ukrainian defenders seems to have provoked misunderstanding. What I am saying is that the Ukrainians (and their Western allies) should not be dismayed by reports that Russian forces have advanced here or there, or control such-and-such strategic points. The key is to keep up the fight, regardless of how much “progress” the Russian invaders may make. Small partisan units — guerrillas, militia, call them what you will — can wreak havoc on an invading force, especially using hit-and-run tactics against supply convoys. The deeper the Russians advance into Ukraine, the longer their supply lines become, and every bridge and culvert along those supply routes becomes a target for attack by the Ukrainian resistance. All it takes is 15 or 20 Ukrainians, armed with nothing more than rifles, mortars and RPGs, lying in wait for the next Russian convoy to come along — BOOM! — hit ’em with all you got, wreck ’em and then run for the hills. You hide out in safe houses overnight, then move up the road for your next attack. If the entire countryside is full of militia units fighting with such tactics, logistics becomes a nightmare for the invading force.

By the way, there are reports of continued fighting at the Gostomel airfield, with loud explosions heard.



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