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Russian Failures in Ukraine Dent Airborne Paratroopers’ ‘Elite’ Status

  • Russia’s elite airborne pressure, the VDV, has been on the middle of Moscow’s offensive towards Ukraine.
  • The VDV has struggled in Ukraine, the place combating has taken a excessive toll in lives and broken the unit’s repute.

The Russian navy’s struggles in Ukraine have severely dented its repute.

Regardless of having qualitative and quantitative benefits, the Russians have failed to attain their major targets, forcing the Kremlin to backtrack and alter its strategic targets within the struggle.

The Russian navy’s elite airborne pressure, the VDV, was on the middle of the invasion that kicked off on February 24, and its paratroopers have suffered heavy losses in a number of high-profile failures through the marketing campaign.

One unit inside the VDV, the 331st Guards Parachute Regiment, is taken into account elite in its personal proper and has taken heavy losses in Ukraine, together with its commander, Col. Sergei Sukharev, who was killed in mid-March.

An airfield too far

Russian paratroopers at Hostomel Airport in Ukraine

Russian paratroopers on the Hostomel Airport in Ukraine, March 12, 2022.

Russian Ministry of Protection/Mil.ru


The Russian plan centered on appearing with velocity, shock, and violence. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his advisers envisioned a struggle that lasted 48 to 72 hours, captured key Ukrainian city facilities, together with Kyiv, and toppled the Ukrainian authorities.

Airborne forces are perfect for such contingencies, as they’re educated and geared up to struggle with velocity, shock, and aggression. Russian navy commanders naturally turned to their VDV airborne forces to play a key half within the invasion of Ukraine.

One of many foremost Russian targets within the preliminary hours of the invasion was the Antonov airport close to the Ukrainian city of Hostomel, about 20 miles from Kyiv. VDV paratroopers carried out an air assault on the airport utilizing about 30 helicopters.

At first, they have been in a position to seize it, nevertheless it was a short-lived victory, as a Ukrainian counterattack by special-operations forces and standard troops retook the airfield.

Antonov Airport in Hostomel Ukraine

Broken buildings and gas tanks on fireplace at Antonov Airport in Hostomel, Ukraine, March 11, 2022

Maxar Applied sciences by way of Getty Photos


The objective of the attacking pressure in airborne operations, akin to airfield seizures, is to broaden the perimeter, or “airhead,” in order that the defending pressure cannot hit the airfield with artillery, rockets, and different indirect-fire weapons, a former Inexperienced Beret officer who served within the 82nd Airborne Division instructed Insider.

“By doing so, you allow airfield ops to continue and reinforcements to pour in,” mentioned the previous officer, who requested anonymity as a result of they nonetheless work with the US authorities.

“Failing to expand the airhead in the initial hours of an airfield seizure welcomes disaster. You could use it as a feint to distract the enemy and take his attention from another part of the battle space, but it would also mean you are sacrificing the airborne force, which, by the way, are some of your more competent units,” the previous Inexperienced Beret mentioned. “Is the risk and loss worth it? That’s up to commander and operational situation to determine.”

Throughout the Hostomel assault, it appears that evidently the Russian VDV forces did not broaden the airhead. They obtained caught on the airfield and have been unable to push out and maintain Ukrainian forces from getting close to the airstrip.

Russian paratroopers armored vehicle

Russian paratroopers in an armored automobile at a checkpoint within the Kyiv area, March 2022.

Russian Ministry of Protection/Mil.ru


Furthermore, the Ukrainian defenders anticipated a Russian try and seize the airfield and had positioned obstacles, akin to buses and tractors, on the runways to stop Russian transport plane from reinforcing the preliminary wave of VDV forces.

Russian commanders additionally failed to strengthen the paratroopers on the bottom with extra helicopter-borne forces — an entire failure of doctrine.

VDV forces, that are distinguished by the “V” marks on their autos, have been concerned in a number of different failures, struggling heavy losses all through the invasion.

In a single case in early March, a complete VDV mechanized patrol was ambushed and destroyed by Ukrainian particular operators within the Kyiv suburb of Irpin.

The 331st Guards Parachute Regiment was concerned in combating round Kyiv and estimates of its losses vary from 39 troops, as tallied by the BBC, to about 100, in line with residents of the neighborhood the place the unit is predicated.

Russian vs. US airborne forces

Dmitry Medvedev with Russia airborne paratroopers

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Airborne Troops commander Vladimir Shamanov, third from proper, meet Airborne troopers in Novorossiysk, Russia, July 14, 2009.

VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP by way of Getty Photos


Distinguished by its troops’ white-and-blue striped shirts, referred to as telnyashkas, and their blue berets, the VDV is an elite group inside the Russian armed forces.

It is a distinct department of the Russian navy and is taken into account Moscow’s strategic reserve. When a contingency seems, the VDV is there. Throughout the current upheaval in Kazakhstan, the VDV was one of many first Russian forces that was despatched in, appearing as what Moscow referred to as peacekeepers.

The VDV’s measurement and doctrinal position differentiates it from airborne items within the US and different Western militaries.

In 2015, the commander of Russia’s airborne troops, Colonel-Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, mentioned that pressure would develop to 60,000 paratroopers within the years forward. These forces are divided into a number of divisions and brigades.

Compared, the US Military’s 82nd Airborne Division has lower than 20,000 paratroopers. The 82nd Airborne is the US navy’s solely devoted paratrooper unit, although different items, just like the Military’s seventy fifth Ranger Regiment, conduct airborne operations.

Army Special Forces Russia airborne paratrooper parachute

A US Military Particular Forces soldier helps a Russian paratrooper with a parachute earlier than a joint train in Bosnia and Herzegovina, September 28, 1998.

US Military/Spc. Michelle Labriel


The doctrinal position of Russian airborne forces can also be distinct from that of their US counterparts. Each formations are rapid-response forces designed to strike quick and seize key targets, however VDV forces are much more mechanized than US airborne items.

Russian VDV items sport tanks, infantry combating autos, and armored personnel carriers, they usually use them typically. Throughout combating in Ukraine, the VDV has misplaced T-72B tanks and BMD-2 infantry combating autos, amongst different autos.

US paratroopers have some mechanized capabilities — just like the LAV-25, a wheeled all-terrain armored infantry combating automobile — however nowhere close to what their Russian counterparts have.

VDV items are additionally designed to be extra impartial than their Western counterparts.

For instance, in a traditional near-peer battle, after seizing a goal, the 82nd Airborne Division would depend on mechanized floor reinforcements to alleviate them. Because the VDV has an natural mechanized functionality, it would not depend on different items to alleviate them after seizing their goal.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a protection journalist specializing in particular operations, a Hellenic Military veteran (nationwide service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Military HQ), and a Johns Hopkins College graduate.




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