MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
So far, the war in Ukraine has seen a couple recurring themes with major consequences - Russian mistakes and Ukrainian ingenuity. Ukraine's successful military offensive is the latest example of how it's made the most of its lesser resources and capitalized on Russian blunders. Here's NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Ukraine keeps laying deadly traps for the Russian military, and the Russians keep biting. When Ukraine started talking about an offensive in the southern part of the country, Russia moved troops there, pulling them out of the east. Ukraine then swooped in and captured a large chunk of territory in the east, where Russian troops had just thinned out.
BEN HODGES: How in the world did the Russians not detect the buildup of Ukrainian forces?
MYRE: Ben Hodges is a retired U.S. lieutenant general who helped train the Ukrainians a few years ago.
HODGES: I mean, the Russians have satellites. The Russians have really top-quality electronic warfare capability that tells you that their processes are not very good.
MYRE: Kelly Grieco is at the Stimson Center in Washington. She says this recent example points to the broader systemic Russian failures.
KELLY GRIECO: The Russians have been touting their modernization. These flashy objects - they show us, and we think, wow, they're really proving, you know, their capability. And it's been less than meets the eye. What we've discovered is there's actually a lot of problems and bugs.
MYRE: And the Ukrainians, she adds, keep outsmarting the Russians. At the start of the war, Russia was expected to quickly establish air superiority with its much larger, more modern air force. But Ukraine foiled the Russians, largely with old Soviet air defense systems on the ground.
GRIECO: They're able to use something called shoot-and-scoot tactics, meaning that they turn on their radar, fire it at an aircraft. And then they're packing up really quickly and getting out of the area so that by the time the Russians respond and maybe shoot a missile back, they're a fleeting target. They've already moved away.
MYRE: Ukraine says it shot down more than 200 Russian planes and helicopters, which have largely stopped flying over Ukraine, Grieco says.
GRIECO: As a result, the Russians have never had the ability to use the skies and fly freely.
MYRE: To protect itself, the Russian air force now fires mostly long-range missiles from beyond Ukraine's borders. But Ukraine has a plan for that as well. It's built wooden decoys of its high-value targets. This has fooled the Russians into firing valuable missiles at these worthless props. Again, Ben Hodges.
HODGES: So you're launching multimillion dollar cruise missiles at wooden targets that are decoys. This sort of agility and innovation, the MacGyver sort of stuff that they do - I think this has contributed to where we are now.
MYRE: Hodges visited Ukraine's sprawling capital, Kyiv, just before Russia invaded in February. He was shocked when Russia then tried to seize the capital in a matter of days.
HODGES: You couldn't capture Kyiv in three days if there were no Ukrainian soldiers there. I mean, it is a very complex urban environment - one of the biggest rivers in Europe. What I failed to appreciate is how the Russians would be so unprepared to actually fight.
MYRE: After a month, the Russians gave up and retreated from the outskirts of the capital. The Ukrainians are getting valuable U.S. intelligence and weapons like Javelin missiles, which a single soldier can use to ambush a Russian tank. But what's a Ukrainian soldier to do if he's in the heat of battle and his Javelin isn't working? JoAnne Bass, the chief master sergeant of the U.S. Air Force, says the answer is simple. He makes a long-distance call to the American national guardsmen in Washington state who originally instructed him.
JOANNE BASS: This young Ukrainian soldier uses the power of their telephone, and they reach out to somebody who they formerly trained with.
MYRE: The results came quickly and with.
BASS: And, within 30 minutes, figured out how to troubleshoot. And then I think, you know, another few minutes goes by, and that guardsman gets a picture of that tank that was, of course, destroyed. It just shows the innovative spirit.
MYRE: A spirit that's serving Ukraine well. Greg Myre, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE PUTH SONG, "LEFT AND RIGHT (FEAT. JUNG KOOK OF BTS)")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.