- Ukraine’s offensive targets Russian-held land corridor
- Formidable Russian defenses impede Ukrainian progress
- Outcome remains uncertain
The Ukrainians insist that it is not a counter-offensive. This is our offensive, our opportunity to ultimately expel the Russian military from our territory.
However, what is necessary for genuine success?
Let’s not get sidetracked by Ukraine’s recent hard-fought but insignificant territorial gains as it retakes obscure, half-abandoned villages in the eastern Donetsk and south-eastern Zaporizhia regions.
Images of victorious, battle-scarred Ukrainian soldiers raising their country’s blue and yellow flag in front of a bullet-riddled building is a morale booster for Ukrainians after months of stalemate.
But in the grand scheme of strategic planning, this is a sideshow.
Russian-held land south of Zaporizhzhia, between the Sea of Azov and the city, is most important for this campaign.
This is the so-called “land corridor” that connects Russia to illegally annexed Crimea, the central portion of the purple-shaded strip on the map below, which has altered little since the invasion’s initial weeks.
Ukraine’s offensive will succeed if it divides it in half and keeps the land it recaptured.
It would isolate Russia’s Western forces and make it difficult to resupply their Crimea garrison.
It would not necessarily mean the end of the war, which some now believe could drag on for years. But it would leave Ukraine in a strong negotiating position for the inevitable peace talks..
The Russians, however, have examined the map for quite some time and reached the same conclusion.
Consequently, while Ukraine sent its soldiers to NATO countries for training and equipped its 12 armored brigades for this summer’s campaign, Moscow was constructing what is now being referred to as “the most formidable defensive fortifications.”
Layer upon layer of Russian minefields, concrete tank blockers (known as “dragons’ teeth”), bunkers, firing positions, and trenches wide and deep enough to halt a Leopard 2 or M1 Abrams tank in its tracks are preventing Ukraine from reaching its coast.
All of this is encompassed by predetermined artillery impact zones calibrated to shower high explosives on Ukraine’s armored vehicles while they wait for their engineers to find a way through.
Early indications – and this campaign is still in its infancy – are that the Russian defenses are holding firm.
The bulk of Ukraine’s forces have not yet been committed, so these are reconnaissance attacks designed to disclose the location of Russia’s artillery and identify weak spots in their lines.
In Ukraine’s favor is moral. Its soldiers are extremely motivated to liberate their homeland from an invader.
Russian training, equipment, and leadership sometimes lag behind Ukraine’s.
The General Staff in Kyiv hopes that a collapse in Russian morale will be contagious, extending across the battlefront as demoralized Russian troops lose the will to fight if they can achieve a sufficient breakthrough.
Also in Ukraine’s favor is the grade of hardware supplied by NATO nations. In contrast to Soviet-designed armored vehicles, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles manufactured by NATO are frequently able to withstand a direct hit, or at least enough to safeguard the crew inside, who can then continue fighting.
However, will this be sufficient to counter Russia’s artillery and drone attacks?
As a considerably larger nation, Russia has access to more resources than Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin, who initiated this conflict, is aware that if he can only wear down the Ukrainians into a stalemate that lasts into next year, there is a chance that the United States and its allies will tire of supporting this costly war effort and begin pressuring Kyiv to reach a ceasefire agreement.
Lastly, there is the issue of air cover or the dearth thereof. Attacking a well-entrenched foe without adequate close aviation support is extremely risky.
This is why Ukraine has pleaded with the West for years to provide it with F16 fighter aircraft.
After the Ukrainian offensive began, the US, which makes them, approved them.
Critically for Ukraine, the game-changing F16s may arrive too late to impact the early stages of this counteroffensive.
This does not imply that the Ukrainians will win.
They have repeatedly demonstrated their agility, resourcefulness, and creativity. The destruction of Russian rear-area logistics hubs prevented them from resupplying Kherson.
Ukraine, armed with long-range armaments such as the British cruise missile Storm Shadow, will now attempt to do the same.
Amidst the propaganda war, it may take weeks or months to determine who will win this struggle.