Ukraine protects airspace from Russia’s military

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Ukraine protects airspace from Russia’s military

WASHINGTON (AP) — In war, winning quick control of airspace is crucial. Russia’s failure to do so in Ukraine, despite its vast military strength, has been a surprise and may help explain how Ukraine has so far prevented a rout.

The standoff in the sky is among the Russian battle shortcomings, including logistical breakdowns, that have thrown Moscow off stride in its invasion.

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Typically, an invading force would seek at the outset to destroy or at least paralyze the target country’s air and missile defenses because dominance of the skies allows ground forces to operate more effectively and with fewer losses. U.S. military officials had assumed that Russia would use its electronic warfare and cyber capabilities to blind and paralyze Ukraine’s air defenses and military communications.

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

Read Kremlin on effectiveness of Ukraine military operation

If that was the plan, it failed, although at this stage the conflict’s overall trajectory still seems to favor the larger, better equipped invading force. The invasion is less than a week old, and Russia still hasn’t committed to the battle the full force it had assembled on the border. A senior U.S. official said Monday that about one-quarter of the force hasn’t crossed into Ukraine.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments, said Ukraine has retained a majority of its surface-to-air missile systems — used to shoot down aircraft — and a majority of its helicopters and airplanes. One reason they have yet to be destroyed, the official said, may be because Ukraine’s air defenses were not centrally located and may have been moved around the country.

It appears that Russian commanders have become frustrated by the pace of their battlefield gains and failure to win full air dominance, the official said. In response they may consider more aggressive, larger-scale attacks against Kyiv and to reduce the significant remaining Ukrainian air defenses.

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

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Cleo Jn. Baptiste

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