Russia’s surprisingly chaotic attack on Kyiv has seen thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles stuck on the roads to the north-west for several days – but several military analysts believe Moscow is gradually overcoming its logistics problems and could be able to mount an assault on the capital within days.
The influential Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based thinktank, concluded on Monday evening that Russian forces were now “concentrating in the eastern, north-western and western outskirts of Kyiv” in preparation for an “assault on the capital in the coming 24-96 hours”.
Its success, the thinktank added, would depend in part on how effectively Russian troops had been able to “resupply, reorganise and plan” after an initial invasion that experts believe fell apart due to flawed assumptions – where the military did not, in the first instance, prepare for a strategic ground offensive against a determined and hostile Ukraine.
“No part of the military operation looked rational or what you would expect them to do,” said Michael Kofman, the director of the Russia studies programme at the CNA thinktank.
Lightly armoured units outran air cover, making failed attempts to march into both Kyiv and Kharkiv in the first days of the conflict, reflecting, Kofman said, that soldiers were “told they were going to help Ukraine liberate themselves”.
What then happened, to the north-west of Kyiv, was that one of the Russian columns heading towards the capital – a vast, 40-mile long force of about 15,000 troops – appeared to become stuck, with vehicles running out of fuel or breaking down.
This created a large traffic jam which – because of the limited available roads and muddy surrounding countryside – was hard to untangle.
Social media images of military vehicles stuck in the mud prompted one expert to suggest that the Russian army had engaged in “poor truck management practices”, where vehicles had been left parked for so long that the tyre sidewalls had become brittle or had even rotted, meaning they were vulnerable to puncture.
But, speaking at an event organised by the Rusi (Royal United Services Institute) thinktank, Kofman said he believed “the logistics problem is oversold” and the problem faced by the invaders was more basic – that it was “extremely hard to undo” the traffic jam problem once it emerged. “Militaries often have to learn problems the hard way,” he added.
Gradually, experts believe, Russia has become more careful about keeping its troops within the protection of its air defences – while at the same time, the problems of the north-west, arguably the most direct invasion route to the capital, have not necessarily been replicated elsewhere.
Russian forces appear to be advancing to the east of the capital to the suburb of Brovary, according to video posted on social media on Tuesday, in a developing attempt to encircle the capital.
And, despite the logistics problems in the north-west, Ukrainian forces have not been able to make a significant attempt to destroy the advancing convoy, partly due the limited air power available to Kyiv’s armed forces.
The next few days are likely to be critical. Nick Reynolds, a land warfare expert at Rusi, said he believed that while the Russian military would not have solved its logistical problems, efforts would have been made to resupply at least part of the invading forces.
“The question is whether it will be in sufficiently good shape to attempt to complete the encirclement of Kyiv,” Reynolds said, “given the physical and psychological hammering that their forces have taken while they were in a state of confused disorganisation.”