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The Russian convoy

The Russian convoy

A 40-mile column of Russian trucks, tanks and armoured vehicles was a symbol of its military might. But then it got stuck. What does it tell us about the invasion of Ukraine?


Transcript
Tomini Babs, narrating:

Hello, I’m Tomini and this is the Sensemaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the world. 

Today, what one military convoy can tell us about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

***

“These images that they have released appear to show a very large deployment of Russian ground forces you can see lots and lots of military vehicles, there are hundreds of them in a convoy. This is apparently to the northeast of the Ukrainian city of Ivankiv and moving in the direction of Kyiv.” 

Sky News, 27 February 2022

A little over a fortnight ago, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, news broke about a forty mile-long military convoy that was snaking its way towards the capital, Kyiv. 

Satellite images showed a massive column of Russian armoured vehicles, tanks and artillery advancing from the northwest. 

At the time, it seemed like a symbol of Russia’s military might. 

And it was… in terms of hardware… a sign of just how many resources Russian president Vladimir Putin is willing to pour into this war.

The big fear was that a military force of this size could be used to besiege the city…and swiftly bring about the fall of Kyiv.

But it was also a symbol of Vladimir Putin’s hubris. He thought Ukraine would fall quickly. That it would succumb merely to the threat of Russia’s military might. 

So his commanders initially tried to take Kyiv using paratroopers dropped into the city and smaller, lightly armoured divisions. They were repelled.

The 40 mile convoy is, in effect, a second wave after the first failed.

And soon after it appeared on those satellite images… it got stuck. For about a week, it didn’t make much progress. 

One reason it was held up was because it was attacked by Ukrainian forces …repeatedly… 

Here’s Pentagon press secretary John Kirby speaking earlier this month: 

“We do believe that the actions by the Ukrainians have in fact stalled that convoy and certainly slowed it down and stopped it in some places.” 

John Kirby, PBS News

The bravery and persistence of Ukrainian soldiers really put a dampener on the convoy’s advance. 

But it also revealed something else. Russia doesn’t have the well-oiled military machine some thought it had…

“It’s also of a piece of Russian challenges that they’ve had, just in terms of their own physical ground movement and sustainment logistics. They’re running out of fuel. We still believe that in some cases they’re running out of food for their soldiers so they’ve also been plagued by their own missteps and stumbles.”

John Kirby, PBS News

***

At first sight, the convoy had seemed like a symbol of the threat Russia posed to Ukraine, but when it stopped in its tracks, it looked more like a sign of its incompetence. 

There were stories about how all of this was affecting morale: Russian soldiers were apparently deserting their vehicles. 

And there were reports that some even sabotaged them by putting holes in the fuel tanks.

Videos posted online appeared to show Ukrainian farmers hauling away empty tanks with tractors.

These were stories that gave people hope… that maybe the Ukrainians could beat back the invaders. 

But should we really have read that much into it? 

***

“In terms of the infamous convoy that’s um you know bogged down in and around Kyiv. It’s odd that they bungled the logistics and the, you know the concept of operations around that so much. But what I would add is it’s one of something like nine axes of advance, all right, so there are one or two that are going very badly and we can see that. But there are five six seven others that are actually progressing.”

Sam Cranny-Evans, Tortoise

That’s Sam Cranny-Evans from the Royal United Services Institute, a military think tank based in London. He’s an expert on land warfare.

He told the newsroom I work for, Tortoise, that the focus on the convoy meant we could’ve been missing the bigger picture.

Russian tanks and military vehicles aren’t advancing on Kyiv from one single place. 

And we shouldn’t forget that there are many other towns and cities further east that are under serious threat from Russian forces.

And, even though the convoy stalled for a while, it didn’t stay stuck. 

“Breaking news tonight. New satellite images show that 40 mile convoy north of Kyiv has dispersed and redeployed, moving rocket launchers and towed artillery into local fields wooded areas.” CNN Anderson Cooper

CNN, 10 March 2022

Satellite images showed that it had dispersed into towns around Kyiv.

It looked like Russian forces were re-grouping. They could be readying themselves to advance on the capital. Even if it is much later than their commanders intended.

Russia’s military really is having logistical problems, and the Ukrainians really have been putting up a fierce resistance. The convoy’s slow progress showed that. 

But in this war, nothing is predictable. 


Today’s story was written and produced by Ella Hill.

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