Ukraine Situation Report: U.S. Told Kyiv Russia Planned To Seize Hostomel Airport

A new report details the lengths the U.S. went through to convince Ukraine’s president and the world that Russia would attack.

byHoward Altman|
Hostomel Airport Ukraine
Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)


Six months into being invaded by Russia, Ukraine has more than managed to hold its own, destroying thousands of pieces of enemy equipment, killing thousands of Russian troops and largely blunting any advances beyond Donbas and the south.

But as the Washington Post report shows - in the first in a series of reports - it apparently wasn’t easy for the U.S. to convince Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the world that a massive attack from Russia, which had occupied parts of Ukraine since 2014, was almost certain to happen.

That was despite the fact that U.S. officials had obtained “extraordinary detail” about the Kremlin’s secret plans for an invasion of Ukraine. 

“The administration also had grave concerns about Ukraine’s young president, a former television comic who had come into office on a huge wave of popular support and desire for fundamental change but had lost public standing in part because he failed to make good on a promise to make peace with Russia,” the Post wrote. “Zelensky, 44, appeared to be no match for the ruthless Putin.”

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The special report on events leading up to where we are today also laid out the way U.S. officials expected Russia to attack.

“According to the intelligence, the Russians would come from the north, on either side of Kyiv. One force would move east of the capital through the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, while the other would flank Kyiv on the west, pushing southward from Belarus through a natural gap between the “exclusion zone” at the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant and surrounding marshland. The attack would happen in the winter so that the hard earth would make the terrain easily passable for tanks. Forming a pincer around the capital, Russian troops planned to seize Kyiv in three to four days. The Spetsnaz, their special forces, would find and remove President Volodymyr Zelensky, killing him if necessary, and install a Kremlin-friendly puppet government."

The piece also talks about how, on Jan. 12, CIA Director William J. Burns met in Kyiv with Zelensky and delivered a candid assessment about how the invasion would begin - the attack on the airport at Hostomel.

"The intelligence picture had only become clearer that Russia intended to make a lightning strike on Kyiv and decapitate the central government. The United States had also discovered a key piece of battlefield planning: Russia would try to land its forces first at the airport in Hostomel, a suburb of the capital, where the runways could accommodate massive Russian transports carrying troops and weapons. The assault on Kyiv would begin there."

Hostomel was the home of the Antonov An-225, known as Mriya, the world's largest cargo plane, which would be destroyed in the attack. We profiled the plane and its first pilot here.

The Post said its work "shines new light on the uphill climb to restore U.S. credibility, the attempt to balance secrecy around intelligence with the need to persuade others of its truth, and the challenge of determining how the world’s most powerful military alliance would help a less-than-perfect democracy on Russia’s border defy an attack without NATO firing a shot."

The report also addressed Zelensky's repeated pleas for more and heavier weapons to fight Russia.

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“You can say a million times, ‘Listen, there may be an invasion.’ Okay, there may be an invasion — will you give us planes?” Zelensky said. “Will you give us air defenses? ‘Well, you’re not a member of NATO.’ Oh, okay, then what are we talking about?”

Before heading into the rest of the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage of the war here.

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For the second time in a week, Russian military installations in Crimea have apparently come under attack.

You can read our coverage of those attacks here.

With Russia frustrated in its efforts to achieve a victory over Ukraine, there has been a great deal of speculation that perhaps a desperate Russian President Vladimir Putin might resort to nuclear weapons.

But those fears were, at least temporarily, cast aside by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

"From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals. The main purpose of Russian nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack," Shoigu said during a speech at an international security conference in Moscow.

Little appears to have changed on the battlefield over the past few weeks between Ukraine and Russia.

In its latest assessment, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) shows few gains on either side, and fighting is still contained.

In the south, the fighting is mostly south and east of Mykolaiv and along a narrow strip running south of Zaporizhzhya and east into the Donbas region toward Donetsk. Elsewhere in the Donbas and surrounding areas, there are clashes running from northwest of Sloviansk to the west and through the southeast of Izyium and northeast of Horlivka. There was also fighting reported north of Kharkiv.

At the beginning of July, Ukrainian forces withdrew from the eastern city of Lysychansk. But it appears that more than a month later, Russian forces there are not out of reach.

Video emerged on Twitter Tuesday showing what appears to be the aftermath of a Ukrainian strike on the former headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine. The building was reportedly being used by Russians as a headquarters.

After members of the Russian Wagner Group posted images on social media, Ukraine’s military was apparently able to geolocate their headquarters in the city of Popasna and managed to wipe it out in a long-range fires barrage, quite possibly by a U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).

It appeared at the time that many of its members were killed, something that @officejjsmart, a “special correspondent” for the Kyiv Post, noted on his Twitter account Tuesday morning.

“The Wagner Russian mercenaries, who ran the “Grey Zone” Telegram channel, with 268,000 followers, have no updates since August 13,” he reported. “My friend, Ukrainian journalist Denis Kazansky, reports that it’s probable that it’s editors were wiped out during the HIMARS strike on Popasna.”

Taiwan knows well what it is like to take on a bigger adversary, as we pointed out in our coverage of China's military reaction to visits there by U.S. lawmakers.

Well, now it appears Taiwanese-made drones that have a rotary magazine of bomblets made their way to Ukraine via Poland.

We profiled this quadcopter-mounted drum magazine back in May, which you can read all about here.

At Russia's Army 2022 arms expo there is apparently a display of captured weapons that Ukraine has been using to great effect against Russia.

One was a captured Ukrainian M777 howitzer, a large number of which have been provided by the U.S. and allies.

Another is a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone (well, a replica of sorts consisting of several captured Bayraktar parts jammed together Frankensteinishly), which Ukraine has wielded so effectively, especially in the early parts of the war and in dramatic fashion to help kick the Russians off Snake Island.

Several well-regarded Ukraine war watchers seemed less than impressed by how the Russians cobbled together the TB2.

But, as has been well-documented over the course of the war, Ukraine has captured a bunch of Russian equipment as well, including hundreds of tanks and a number of drones.

That list now apparently includes a Russian Eleron T28 ME reconnaissance drone. The Ukraine Weapons Tracker Twitter account today showed what appears to be the first documented loss of one of those systems in Ukraine. It is a larger variant of the commonly seen Eleron-3 system and possesses a longer range.

Though Ukraine is awash in anti-tank weapons from all over, the UAWeapons Twitter account on Tuesday reported that an unknown number of Bulgarian BULSPIKE-AT anti-tank launchers were been delivered from Bulgaria to the Ukrainian Army a couple of months ago.

According to Vazovski Mashinostroitelni Zavodi (VMZ) ЕAD - Bulgaria's largest arms producer - the weapon fires the PG-22 anti-tank grenade.

“The BULSPIKE-AT round is intended for destruction of tanks, self-propelled guns and other motorized and armored vehicles,” the company states on its website, “as well as against the enemy manpower located in bunkers, field shelters and urban-type brick-wall fortifications.”

Despite, or perhaps because of all the hardships it has had to endure during this war, Ukrainian officials have constantly exhibited a sense of humor.

Like this latest example, where Zelensky advisor Mykhailo Podolyak manages to lay down the gauntlet for the British government after Boris Johnson's exit:

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