Driving assessment

Ukraine has been telegraphing its big counter-offensive for months. So where is he?

But even with billions of dollars worth of weapons from across Europe and North America now in Ukrainian hands, real questions remain about whether it’s enough and what it might look like.

Some of these weapons, such as the American-made high-mobility artillery rocket system, enabled Ukraine to beat Russian positions around the occupied city of Kherson. But the Russians retaliated in kind, leading to a brutal stalemate that continued to leave the southern region up for grabs, with infantry on both sides jostling for their foxholes instead of advancing.

The city of Kherson, which sits on the northern banks of the Dnipro River, is a gateway for Russian forces to push west towards the critical port city of Odessa. It has been occupied since the start of the war, but Russian forces have been unable to push west due to Ukrainian resistance.

This holding action was key to keeping Odessa and other Black Sea ports in Ukrainian hands, a lifeline that allowed some grain shipments to leave the port, giving Kyiv an economic boost desperately needed.

But Ukraine’s telegraphy of its long-awaited counter-offensive, its slow pace and some puzzling decisions have even the most observant Russian-Ukrainian analysts wondering where the push has gone.

Is this a feint by Kyiv to confuse and confuse the Russian forces? Or an indication that Ukraine currently lacks the firepower to overthrow Moscow’s grip on key territory – and that a bitter war of back-and-forth gains is inevitable?

“Why public messaging around Kherson?” I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know, but it’s something that drives me crazy,” said Konrad Muzyka, a military analyst and director of Rochan Consulting, which tracks the war.

“Frankly, from a military point of view, it makes absolutely no sense, because if you are a Ukrainian military commander, you would much rather fight, say, the seven tactical groups of the Russian battalion that were in the north of Kherson a month ago, not the 15 or 20 there now,” Muzyka added, while noting that Russian losses have weakened the combat strength of some of those battalions.

However, as the disastrous Russian push towards Kyiv in February and March showed, pushing thousands of troops towards an objective without weakening enemy defenses is a losing proposition – a lesson the Ukrainians have learned.

Recent Strikes on three bridges spanning the Dnipro River rendered them “inoperative” and severely disrupted Russia’s ability to reinforce troops in the city of Kherson, Nataliya Humenyuk, spokesman for the Southern Operational Command, said on Monday. Ukraine.

“The blows inflicted on them currently do not allow the use of these bridges for the circulation of heavy equipment,” she added.

His comments came after Ukrainian forces again struck the Antonovsky Bridge, the last and greatest artery connecting the southern part of the region to the northern side. Video pictures of the strikes shared online showed Russian air defense systems trying to suppress HIMARS targeting the bridge.

But the successful strikes were not followed by significant advances on the pitch. Indeed, there has been little movement of Ukrainian ground forces around the Kherson area, with some reports indicating that troops remained pinned down in the trenches by Russian shelling.

The Southern Operational Command of Ukraine claimed to have liberated dozens of small towns and villages in the northern Kherson region. But they encountered little Russian resistance in these areas. Taking the rest of the territory will be much more difficult, analysts say.

This friction is felt on both sides. While Ukraine may not be able to push as hard as necessary at the moment, the blows it has dealt to the Russian logistics effort are also strangling the Kremlin’s ambitions. “Even if Russia manages to carry out major repairs to the bridges, they will remain a key vulnerability,” for the Kremlin, according to an assessment by British intelligence services on August 13.

Thousands of Russian soldiers could now be forced to rely on resupply via just two pontoon ferry crossings. “With their limited supply chain, the size of the stockpiles that Russia has managed to establish in the West Bank is likely to be a key factor in the endurance of the force,” the assessment said.

Dislodging even a small number of troops from defensive positions has been one of the trickiest aspects of the ground war in Ukraine. Moscow’s forces have demonstrated their willingness to bleed on every foot of Donbass they have won in six months of fighting.

It won’t be any easier for the Ukrainians, and one wonders if they have the troops and enough artillery shells to do it.

The UK has taken the initiative to train thousands of Ukrainian infantry soldiers in recent weeks in south-east England, and a handful of countries – including Canada, Sweden, Finland, Denmark , the Netherlands and New Zealand – said they would soon join the effort. .

But that pipeline only provides about three weeks of basic infantry training in movement and tactics, just enough for recruits to have a cursory grasp of the harrowing realities they will face, but not much more.

An August 11 meeting in Copenhagen saw 26 Western countries and the European Union commit to providing an additional $1.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine, funds primarily intended to provide more artillery and ammunition.

Meanwhile, Russia has in recent weeks moved forces from the southern Kharkiv region near the town of Izyum and from the Donetsk region to the east, south to strengthen its defenses around Kherson, increasing this which was already a mathematical advantage in troops and equipment.

Russian forces encountered little resistance in the early days of the invasion when they seized almost all of the agriculturally rich region of Kherson, a strategically important city just north of Crimea. They have since reinforced their lines there and in recent weeks have built defenses in anticipation of a Ukrainian attack.

But it was also an uncomfortable occupation for the invaders, as they faced deep resentment from Ukrainian residents and strong resistance from special forces secretly operating in the area.

Nevertheless, Russia plans to hold a referendum in Kherson in mid-September to forcefully take the region into its fold. So if Kyiv hopes to end illegal voting, it must act quickly.

Mykola Bielieskov, a researcher at the National Institute for Strategic Studies of Ukraine, does not believe that a Ukrainian offensive will happen quickly, considering that “Ukraine lacks heavy weapons” to carry out such a maneuver. “It’s a huge mistake,” he said.

He said Kyiv would likely “slowly and methodically” pound Russian forces and “show Moscow that its position in the south is untenable”.

Bieliekov also suggests that the redeployment of Russian forces to Kherson might be a strategic mistake. “I would even say that Russia made the situation even more precarious because more troops would need more supplies, which are vulnerable to strikes,” he said.

Kyiv appears to have recognized this and attacked key rail and road bridges crossing the Dnipro River, preventing Russian troops from moving freely in the region.

Forcing Moscow to change its focus and its soldiers should be seen as “quite a feat”, Bieliekov said. “This is the first time in the great war that Russia has corrected its plans after Ukraine’s actions,” he said. “Before, the initiative was strictly in the hands of the Russians.”

This may not correspond to the major counter-offensive announced by Kyiv. But Bieliekov says the number of weapons and troops on the front line is not necessarily informative.

He points to the successful defense of Kyiv by the oppressed Ukrainian army, which crushed Russia’s offensive plans and forced Moscow to retreat to safer ground in the east.

“The best strategists are those who don’t fight by manual but find a way to do their job even with limited means,” he said.