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Kyiv facing brutal, bloody medieval battle


A ferocious Russian invasion of Kyiv could leave the city razed to the ground, an urban warfare expert has predicted, while warning Russia’s terrifying obliteration of Grozny in Chechnya may foreshadow Moscow’s battle tactics in the weeks ahead.
In 1999, during the brutal conflict in the breakaway state of Chechnya, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the complete destruction of the capital city Grozny, with unimaginable bombardments killing tens of thousands of civilians.

Anthony King, a professor of war studies at Warwick University and author of the book Urban Warfare in the Twenty-First Century, said Mr Putin could unleash the same horror on Kyiv, because Russia’s leader is “betting the house” on winning in Ukraine.

Grozny endured heavy fighting between Russian troops and the rebels, as Russia renewed its efforts to capture the city.
Grozny endured heavy fighting between Russian troops and the rebels, as Russia renewed its efforts to capture the city. (AP)

Professor King told 9news.com.au he feared the situation in Kyiv looked “very bleak”, and he expected Mr Putin to ramp up “a kind of medieval bombardment” once Russian forces, he predicted, struggle to wrestle control of the Ukrainian capital of 3 million people.

Ukrainian defence forces and civilians would be subjected to an “intense, kind of coercive bombardment,” Professor King said, as frustration levels in the Kremlin begin to rise.

“I don’t think (the Russians) have got the force numbers to take Kyiv,” he said.

“So they’ll possibly resort to a kind of medieval bombardment, with a view to collapsing the regime, collapsing civilian morale.”

Professor King said at first he did not think the Russians would indiscriminately bomb Ukrainian cities, but he has now changed his mind, given evidence and footage coming out of Mariupol and Lviv.

“I’m afraid to say I think the bombing will be even more intense in Kyiv (than Mariupol and Lviv) because I think as a military objective it’s really important (to Moscow) and it will also be really, really difficult for the Russians to take.”

Residents in Grozny look at an unexploded Russian bomb.
Residents in Grozny look at an unexploded Russian bomb. (Reuters)
Chechnya's capital city, Grozny, shows the mark of months of fighting.
Chechnya’s capital city, Grozny, shows the mark of months of fighting. (AP)

With the invasion now in its second month, Russian forces have seemingly stalled on many fronts and are even losing previously taken ground to Ukrainian counterattacks, including around Kyiv.

The Russians have bombed the capital from the air but not taken or surrounded the city.

US and French defence officials say Russian troops appear to have adopted defensive positions outside Kyiv.

Professor King said conflicts involving Russia in Grozny in the 1990s and Donbas in eastern Ukraine since 2014 were both strong pointers as to what kind of tactics Mr Putin might order next.

“Essentially, the Russian approach is very significant levels of bombardment, a lot of coercive bombardment, rather than really precise, accurate targeted bombardment, followed by assaults, which will be accompanied by barrages,” he said.

“They’ll be looking to destroy the fortified positions and bunkers of the defenders, and then Russian forces will attack systematically and slowly through the city.”

Grozny residents huddle in basements to avoid Russian bombardments during the conflict.
Grozny residents huddle in basements to avoid Russian bombardments during the conflict. (AP)

There would be “no great sophistication” to the Russian ground assault, he said, predicting a high death toll and grisly casualties as intense fighting moves slowly through the city’s neighbourhoods, block by bloody block.

Ukrainian defence forces have spent weeks fortifying Kyiv’s buildings and barricading key streets and routes into the city. The city’s many high-rise buildings will be occupied by crack sniper teams.

“So it will be like a sort of 20th century or even a medieval fight,” Professor King said, “a slow, grinding assault with a mechanised infantry, lots and lots of artillery.”

“My sense is that Putin is betting the house on this, and therefore he needs to take Kyiv.

“In Grozny, the Russians ground their way through the city with massive artillery bombardments, just cleared out the buildings – boring and grinding through the buildings.

“It will be the same in Kyiv.”

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Professor King said the battle for Mosul in 2016-17 underlined the difficult and perilous nature of urban warfare, even when one side has vastly superior weapons and numbers.

“ISIS were a light infantry force of 6000 soldiers, it took nine months to clear them out of Mosul, a city of 1.2 million.

“The Iraqi army was 94,000-strong, totally backed by US air power of unbelievable sophistication and dominance.”

The Ukrainian defence forces are better organised and armed than Islamic State forces, Professor King said, and they were defending a much larger city comprised of “very complicated topography”, including an underground subway system.

It was possible the Ukrainian forces could use mines and IED bombs to try and thwart the invading Russians, he said.

“Kyiv represents a very, very dangerous military target for the Russians, if properly defended.”



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