Home News Ukraine Goes on the Offensive

Ukraine Goes on the Offensive

12
0



The Ukrainian military has recaptured nearly 300 square miles of territory in a lightning dual counteroffensive in the south and the east of the country, a top Ukrainian general said Thursday, marking perhaps the most significant advance in the war in months.

After weeks of stalled fighting in and around the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian troops began pushing Russian forces back from the country’s second-largest city of Kharkiv six days ago, threatening to cut vital supply lines for the Kremlin’s assault. And videos posted to social media showed that the snap offensive wasn’t just racking up Russian casualties but rows of prisoners.

The Ukrainian push on two fronts, striking both east toward Kharkiv and south toward Kherson, has put Russian forces on the back foot. Russia moved troops south when the big punch came in the east. “My understanding is that they are pushing everywhere,” said Tymofiy Mylovanov, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukrainian military has recaptured nearly 300 square miles of territory in a lightning dual counteroffensive in the south and the east of the country, a top Ukrainian general said Thursday, marking perhaps the most significant advance in the war in months.

After weeks of stalled fighting in and around the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian troops began pushing Russian forces back from the country’s second-largest city of Kharkiv six days ago, threatening to cut vital supply lines for the Kremlin’s assault. And videos posted to social media showed that the snap offensive wasn’t just racking up Russian casualties but rows of prisoners.

The Ukrainian push on two fronts, striking both east toward Kharkiv and south toward Kherson, has put Russian forces on the back foot. Russia moved troops south when the big punch came in the east. “My understanding is that they are pushing everywhere,” said Tymofiy Mylovanov, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But the quick succession of military advances by Ukraine in the past several days, including into Balakliya and Shevchenkove—perhaps the largest of the war since Russian troops were pushed out of the Kyiv suburbs in late spring—has surprised some of the higher-ups in Kyiv, who expected the lightning offensive to move more slowly. On Wednesday, Colin Kahl, the U.S. Defense Department’s policy chief, referred to the Ukrainian moves as an “offensive,” the first time the Biden administration has used that word.

“They’ve done a lot of damage to the Russian forces” near Kherson, Kahl said at a defense conference near Washington. Ukraine’s armed forces said on Thursday that they had recaptured 20 settlements in the Kharkiv region from Russia. The push was made possible, in part, by long-range U.S. artillery.

“This is Ukraine cleverly spotting thin Russian lines with bad opportunities for redeployment, coupled with new, longer-range capabilities that can impact Russian forces,” said Oscar Jonsson, a researcher at the Swedish Defence University. The attacks also gave Ukrainian forces hope of retaking Izyum, captured by Russia in the early days of the April offensive in the Donbas region, and of cutting off the major supply junction at Kupyansk.

Yet just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to mobilize 137,000 more troops by January—likely in a bid to stem troop losses in Ukraine—Ukrainian officials believe that the defenders have been able to take advantage by seizing on a moment to attack thinner Russian forces in Kharkiv just as they have shuttled in more reinforcements toward Kherson, which has been effectively ranged with U.S.- and European-provided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.

“It seems like the Russians can’t hold the defense for the whole theater,” said Oleksiy Goncharenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker from Odesa. “They need to increase their presence somewhere. They need to take forces from somewhere.”

Goncharenko, a member of the opposition in Ukraine’s parliament, said Russia has also backfilled its ranks near Kharkiv with less experienced troops, such as those in Rosgvardia, Russia’s rough equivalent to the U.S. National Guard. But others said the Russian manpower shortages may be even more dire. “There are villages in eastern Ukraine where they have recruited everyone,” said Mylovanov, the advisor to Zelensky. “No one is left.”

The advances also show Ukraine’s increasing urgency to reconquer ground ceded to the Russians after Putin launched his full-scale invasion in February before a brutal winter sets in that is likely to bring heavy snowfall throughout the country and send temperatures below zero. Ukrainian officials told Foreign Policy that they are not eager to leave the liberation of Kherson, one of Russia’s biggest strategic prizes so far in the war, until after the winter. Oleksandra Ustinova, a Ukrainian parliamentarian, said Ukrainian forces are likely to be knocking on the door of the city within the week.

“They are literally running away,” Ustinova said.

But even with $675 million more in U.S. military aid heading to Ukraine starting Thursday, including more artillery and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems that have pounded Russian lines in the south, top Ukrainian officials are still complaining about shortages in ammunition. Officials said artillery shortages are most acute with 152 mm Soviet-era artillery, which has become impossible to source and which the United States and other Western allies are trying to backfill with NATO-standard 155 mm artillery.

But Ukrainian military officials still worry that they are vastly outranged by Russian weapons, despite Ukrainian attacks on Crimean supply hubs last month. In a blog post published on Wednesday, Ukraine’s top general, Valeriy Zaluzhny, and parliamentarian Mykhailo Zabrodsky urged the United States and other powers to more quickly provide long-range weapons such as the Army Tactical Missile System, which the Biden administration has yet to send to Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia into further escalating the war.

Despite the Ukrainian gains, Zaluzhny and Zabrodsky said they expect the war to drag into 2023 and that Russia could try to push on Izyum and Bakhmut in the east or advance farther toward Zaporizhzhia in the south. “Success in the south, provided it is used quickly and correctly, can have a double effect,” they wrote. “The prospects for capturing Mykolaiv and Odesa are quite real.”

Yet there also appears to be a consistent theme of Ukraine’s offensive: using long-range attacks to make it difficult for Russian troops to resupply themselves. Zaluzhny confirmed that the August attack on a Russian air base in Crimea was carried out by missiles and that it could mark a target for a later Ukrainian offensive. And other Ukrainian officials see the current pattern as building up to that.

“It’s a consistent strategy of weakening the supply lines and degrading the military capacity of Russia,” Mylovanov said. “So I think if they keep doing it, they’re going to make the Russian force collapse.”

Previous articleBell of Hope Rings To Mark 21st Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks
Next articleYes, Special Master – John Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine