The first phase of Ukraine’s counteroffensive to retake Russian-occupied territory began weeks ago without much fanfare. Besides claiming that its troops are advancing, kyiv has not provided many details on how this is happening.
Occurring mostly out of sight of impartial observers, the fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine pits troops armed with new Western-supplied weapons against Kremlin forces who have spent months digging formidable defenses and perfect their tactics.
Here is a glimpse of what is happening after more than 16 months of war:
WHAT ARE UKRAINE’S TACTICS?
Fighting intensified at several points along the 1,500 kilometer (930 mile) front line. Ukrainian forces are steadily advancing along the northern and southern flanks of the destroyed town of Bakhmut, which Russian forces have occupied since May.
Battles also raged along the southern front at Zaporizhzhia, where Ukrainian forces made minimal gains and came up against formidable Russian fortifications.
Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, recently claimed that Kyiv forces had destroyed six Russian ammunition depots in the space of 24 hours, a remark that alluded to Ukrainian tactics.
“We inflict effective, painful and precise blows and bleed the occupant, for whom the lack of ammunition and fuel will sooner or later become fatal,” she said.
Britain’s top military officer said that was Ukraine’s first objective: to starve Russian units for supplies and reinforcements by attacking logistics and command centers in the rear, including with supplied Storm Shadow missiles by the UK. Ukraine is also trying to stretch Russia’s resources by simultaneously harassing several points along the front line, Admiral Tony Radakin, Britain’s chief of defense staff, said earlier this month.
Ukraine’s full-scale offensive will come, he said, when a point on the front line collapses. kyiv’s reserve troops can then pour through the breach.
“I would describe this as a policy of starvation, stretch and strike,” Radakin told a British parliamentary committee.
He noted that Ukraine lacked vital air cover for its attacks. kyiv has secured promises from its Western allies of F-16 fighter jets, but they are not expected to be seen on the battlefield until next year. Ukraine is also asking for long-range weapons and more ammunition.
The United States this week sent cluster munitions to Ukraine to bolster its offensive. President Joe Biden said he hoped the controversial bombs would provide a temporary solution to help stop Russian tanks because “the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition”.
WHAT ARE RUSSIA’S TACTICS?
Kremlin forces are using a large number of anti-tank mines to slow down Ukrainian armored counter-offensive operations in southern Ukraine. This puts the exposed Ukrainian attackers at the mercy of Russian drones, helicopters and artillery.
Even when entrenched behind several kilometers (miles) of trenches, anti-tank ditches and other obstacles, which are said to be up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) deep in some places, the Russian forces face many difficulties. .
Attrition on the battlefield diminished Moscow’s military clout. The war also revealed incompetence and lack of initiative in the Russian ranks, as well as poor coordination.
Radakin, Britain’s commander-in-chief, said Russia had lost about half its fighting force since its full-scale invasion in February 2022. Additionally, Russian factories are unable to supply enough munitions to replace those lost on the battlefield, he said.
For example, Russia used about 10 million shells in Ukraine, while producing only one million new ones, according to Radakin. Likewise, it lost more than 2,000 tanks but only made 200 replacements, he said.
The Russians reportedly carried out offensive operations and made minimal gains in the northern forest area of Kreminna.
AND AFTER ?
The Ukrainian counteroffensive will be “very long” and “very bloody”, US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently.
Ukrainian soldiers say the heavy Russian bombardment on their positions has been surprising and is slowing kyiv’s advance.
In the open fields of Zaporizhzhia in particular, where finding shelter is difficult, commanders expose fewer soldiers in order to limit heavy artillery casualties.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged last week that the counter-offensive “is not going fast”.
It started later than expected, apparently as kyiv awaited the delivery of Western weapons and the arrival of Western-trained soldiers. This delay meant that the operation started in the summer instead of the spring.
Military planners should keep in mind that the Ukrainian winter brings muddy conditions that bog down armor and troops. The famous mud season even has its own name: “rasputitsa”.
Once the weather deteriorates, the warring parties will need to take stock and prepare for what could be another round of attrition wars over the coming winter.
Western analysts say the counteroffensive, even if successful, will not end the war. But this could turn out to be a decisive episode and strengthen kyiv’s hand in any negotiation. Ukraine is also keen to show the West that sending aid was worth it.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine