10 days to 10 years, what went wrong for Russia in Ukraine,and how can the west avoid the same fate?

By Jonathan Cummins

At the beginning of the war, Russia’s strategy was simple: overwhelm Ukraine and sound Kyiv, Russia believed they could do so in ten days, and when the war started, American estimates were about the same, and who could blame them? After all, the third largest military in the world had the element of surprise against a nation that had: no track record of military success, inexperienced leaders, and an army that had only been developed after the twenty-fifteen invasion of Crimea. It was going to be a conflict so small that Russia did not even call it war, they called it a “special military operation.” But, fast forwarding a year later, and the war is not over, beyond that, it looks like it could go on for years. Russia has lost 200,000 men, its entire air force, and most of its navy. So, this begs the question: what went wrong? What changed in those 10 days for that to fail on a scale this massive, and what can militaries do to avoid such a disaster?  My hypothesis going in is that the failure was caused by stiff Ukrainian resistance that ended any possibility of a quick war, but this investigation looks to find the truth.

One area where Russia has struggled is with its equipment, specifically the tires on its military vehicles. When Ukrainian troops started capturing Russian vehicles, they discovered that something was off, specifically with a BM-21 Grad, a Soviet truck-mounted missile launcher: it still had the same tires it was equipped with in the 90s. The average lifespan of a tire is 10 years. The tires on these vehicles were so old that they had visible cracks. These tires slowed down Russian forces in Ukraine, as their vehicles got stuck in the mud, hindering their movements, and making them vulnerable to attack. Inspection of other tires indicates that Russian officers may have bought cheap Chinese tires to save money, which has affected the quality of their military vehicles. As a result, the Russians have lost more than 2,800 military vehicles and heavy pieces of military equipment, including at least 500 tanks, they have 5,000 total. The most famous example of these faulty tires and why they are the reason Russia is losing is the now-famous 20-mile-long convoy of armored vehicles that stalled for eight days outside of Ukraine. These armored vehicles could have given Russia the supplies needed to overwhelm Ukraine, but because of the tires, and a lack of fuel, they stalled, and Russia retreated.

While the faulty tires have certainly impacted Russia’s ability to conduct effective military operations in Ukraine, they are not the only reason for Russia’s struggle to take Kyiv. Another key factor has been Russia’s failure to take over Hostomel Airport.

One of the most significant examples of Ukrainian resistance was their successful defense of the Hostomel Airport in 2022. The airport is located 10 kilometers ( 6.2 miles) northwest of Kyiv and was an important target for Russia, as it was home to Antonov Airlines, the cargo division of the Antonov design bureau, and the An-225, the world’s largest aircraft, at the time of the Russian assault on the city. Capturing the airport was crucial to the Russian plan to capture Ukraine, as it would have allowed them to bring in fresh men and equipment, enabling them to capture Kyiv and destroy any centralized force in Ukraine, destroying the government and then placing their own on the helm.

Russia sent its best special forces into the airport, but because Russia underestimated the Ukrainian defense, the assault on the airport was unsuccessful. As soon as the Russians started flying in to capture the airport, they were struck by Ukrainian anti-air guns that they did not think would be there, and Ukrainian defenses were left intact. After a few more waves the VDV troops that were airlifted into the airport were soon facing counterattacks by Ukrainian forces, something they did not think was possible and did not prepare for. As the Russian army and VDV tried to turn Hostomel into a forward operating base, their offensive into Ukraine began to bog down due to artillery that they again, did not expect to be there, leading to a lack of fuel and equipment and significant losses in manpower.

Constant counterattacks and artillery barrages, partially because of the convoy failing to resupply, forced the Russians to pull out. The resistance of the Ukrainian military in defending the airport demonstrated their commitment to defending their country and their ability to withstand Russian aggression.

So, we know why Russia is losing: tires and airports, but those are just the results. The causes behind those failures are underestimation, and under equipment. So, now knowing this, what can Ukraine and the West do to avoid disaster on the scale of the Russians, and should we worry?

Kyiv did not fall in 10 days due to an ill-equipped military, resulting from corrupt soldiers, and terrible upkeep. To avoid this problem, we should  promote investigations into our country’s spending to make sure that money is being properly allocated. The second reason was the failure to stake a strategic position, resulting from an underestimation of Ukrainian soldiers. To stop this from happening in the West we also should promote better intelligence and a conservative approach towards battles, so as not to lose men due to bad intel.



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