Satellite images show Russia pulled military planes from key airport
The removal of equipment from the airport, evidenced by images captured by space imaging firm Planet Labs over six days, comes as the Ukrainian military pushes to retake lost territory in the Kherson region.
Kherson, a shipbuilding center east of Odessa on the Black Sea, was the first major city to be overrun by Russian forces early in the war. But Russia failed to overtake the region as a whole.
Control of Kherson is essential to any effort to gain broad dominance in the south. The region, located just north of the Russian-controlled Crimean peninsula, stretches from the Black Sea coastline to the mouth of the Dnieper.
Last week, Ukrainian forces attacked Kherson airport, inflicting extensive damage to Russian equipment, which was clearly visible in satellite images and video of the aftermath. An image taken on Monday shows previously visible planes had been withdrawn, although Russian ground troops still appear to be in control of the airport.
“The Ukrainian attack itself shows the vulnerability of the position, and the Russians may have decided it was not a good idea to park expensive planes there,” wrote Frederick W. Kagan, director of the Critical Threats project at the American Enterprise Institute. E-mail. He said Russian forces appeared to have given up, at least for now, on taking Mykolaiv, a strategic city on an entrance to the Black Sea, as well as other critical areas in southern Ukraine, such as Odessa, an important economic and cultural center. center.
“Kherson airfield is the most useful for these operations,” he added.
A video posted to Twitter on March 18 and verified by The Times shows Russian vehicles towing helicopters away from the airport through a town about 25 miles to the southeast.
Mason Clark, senior analyst and Russia team leader at the Institute for the Study of Warfare, wrote in an email that the Russians were withdrawing manned aircraft overall following losses against Ukrainian forces. Clark said Russian flight operations may also have been affected by crew and mechanical support personnel losses and exhaustion.