He has been a menacing presence in the war in Ukraine: Satellite images showed a military convoy stretching 40 miles along a road north of Kiev, with a number of homes and buildings burning in proximity.
Experts fear the convoy, which includes armored supply and attack vehicles, could be used to surround and cut off the capital or launch an all-out assault. The front of the convoy is only 20 miles from the capital.
“What we’re seeing is essentially phase 2, which is a shift to a much more brutal, tactless, and unrestricted warfare that will result in a lot more civilian casualties and bloodier battles,” said Mathieu Boulègue, an expert at the Russian War at Chatham House, a leading political institute in London.
While the Ukrainian military has air power and missiles capable of hitting the convoy, its capabilities are limited. Targeting such a long convoy would present its own challenges, as well as the risk of inciting Russia to retaliate.
“The Ukrainians attacking it from the air would have to make the decision to take their very limited air force and pursue what is a very difficult target,” said Frederick W. Kagan, director of the Critical Threats project at the ‘American Enterprise Institute. , which has partnered with the Institute of the Study of War to provide updates on the Russian invasion. He noted that the Russian military was likely defending the convoy aggressively.
It was also possible that Ukrainian commanders would wait to engage the armored vehicles until they entered Kiev, where they could be more easily destroyed when confined to city streets, and where neighborhoods could provide plenty of hiding places and protection for soldiers firing anti-tank missiles. .
Experts warned it was still too early to tell the exact purpose of the convoy, saying it was also possible the convoy could be used as part of a pincer movement to cut off the northeast of the country. But they said Russia appeared to be adapting its initial strategy.
As part of this strategy, Kremlin leaders had mistakenly assumed that Ukrainian forces would suffer a quick defeat against a superior Russian army and that Russian forces could quickly take major cities without too much fighting. Instead, Russian forces were pinned down by fierce resistance from the Ukrainian military and citizens who took up arms.
So what do we know about this convoy? The cloud cover made it difficult to get a continuous or full view of the area or a clear idea of convoy movement. It was unclear whether the burning buildings and houses had been attacked.
The convoy is dotted along a road that stretches from Antonov Airport north to the village of Prybirsk for about 40 miles, according to Maxar Technologies, which released the images.
It includes supply trucks for soldiers and fuel for vehicles, but most of it, by Mr. Boulègue’s assessment, is miles and miles of heavy artillery.
The convoy is not a continuous line. Some vehicles are spaced far apart, while in some sections two or three military vehicles move side by side on the road.
Mr Kagan said it should be noted that the convoy was not made up entirely of attack vehicles.
A Pentagon official said Tuesday that Russian forces were plagued by shortages of fuel, food and spare parts. Mr Kagan said a number of trucks in the column were likely to contain these essentials supplies to avoid further logistical problems.
Mr Kagan observed that when Russia initially concentrated its forces, particularly on the Belarusian border before its advance, it did not appear to have built up the type of logistical base usually mobilized before launching an attack. This, he said, helped explain why the Russian incursion failed to quickly capture the capital.
While it’s not unusual for an invasion force to have such logistical challenges, he said it was unusual for them to persist. several days into an invasion and into a military operation in which President Vladimir V. Putin had spent at least months preparing.
“It reflects the fact that this invasion was in fact poorly planned, poorly, poorly prepared and is being poorly conducted,” Kagan said. “This column reflects, in part, the fact that Russia was quick to adapt to the problems it had created by the way it planned and carried out this attack.”
Despite Russia’s superior firepower and resources, visible in the miles of weapons outside Kiev, Kagan said the outcome of the battle was not a foregone conclusion, noting how Ukrainian forces and civilians had shown unexpected resilience.
“I would hedge that bet,” he said.