For offensive Ukraine has two role models – only one battle was a complete success

Ukraine’s counteroffensive is only a few days old. But its basic strategic features are becoming increasingly clear. One axis is oriented to the east, towards the area around the bloodily contested city of Bakhmut and towards the province of Luhansk.

Another is aimed south-southeast from the city of Wuhledar in Donetsk province. The third is perhaps the most important. On June 8, it became known that Ukraine had launched a major attack south in the Zaporizhia province, which forms the central part of the long front line of the war. It seems to be the biggest so far.

Russia claims to have fended off the attack

Although the attack had begun earlier, on the night of June 8, Ukrainian troops advanced in two trains from Orikhiv, a small Ukrainian-controlled town, according to a source familiar with the course of the fighting. An advance was made along the Konka River, a tributary of the Dnieper that meanders east of the city.

The other was further east. Russian military bloggers on the news platform Telegram described a violent attack with heavy artillery fire and the use of tanks. The Russian Defense Ministry said it repelled an attack in Novodarivka, nearly 70 km east of Orikhiv.

On June 8, Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Russian puppet government in occupied Zaporizhia, ordered residents of Tokmak and the two neighboring towns of Vasylivka and Polohy to flee to Simferopol in Crimea. Heavy fighting reportedly broke out in the area.

Ukraine uses German and American tanks

There are some early indications that the attack on Zaporizhia differs from attacks in the east and south, both in the scale and intensity of the Ukrainian attack and in the equipment used.

Drone images released by Russian media appear to show German Leopard tanks, including the latest 2A6 variant, American Bradley main battle tanks and M113 armored personnel carriers in Mala Tokmachka, a village east of Orikhiv.

That would indicate that Ukraine has deployed several of its nine Western-armed and trained brigades — including some of the best-equipped, according to leaked February Pentagon documents — to the area.

Military experts and government officials have long believed that Zaporizhia is an ideal location for the Ukrainian offensive. Its location in the heart of the frontline means any attack there could trap large numbers of Russian troops in an area west of Kherson province.

Many could also be trapped in Crimea itself if Ukraine managed to blow up the bridge across the Kerch Strait again.

Ukraine could destroy Russian supply lines

If Ukraine captures the key city of Melitopol, it could destroy Russian road and rail supply lines west to Crimea, disrupting the so-called land bridge linking Russian territory with the occupied peninsula. Just getting within firing range of the links would cause Russia major problems.

For the same reason, Russia has been zealously building several defense lines stretching over 30 km in Zaporizhia north of Tokmak, drone and satellite images show. These include trenches, dugouts, anti-tank ditches and obstacles, and minefields.

Tokmak itself is completely surrounded by circular trenches capable of housing anti-tank teams and multiple bases, according to Pasi Paroinen, a Finnish reserve officer who analyzes such images.

The point of such defenses is not to stop an attack, but to direct it to specific areas and slow it down so it can be deflected and crushed.

“It’s not looking very good for the Ukrainians at the moment”

War games conducted by Ukraine’s allies over the last year and recently have shown that a push towards Melitopol would be difficult and costly: Ukraine’s flanks would be exposed to Russian attacks and the Russian Air Force could use long-range “glide bombs”. to attack advancing columns.

Ukraine’s progress is not entirely clear. Some open source analysts are skeptical. “The attack is rather slow,” says Emil Kastehelmi, a Finnish analyst. “At the moment things are not looking very good for the Ukrainians.”

One picture shows Leopard tanks being hit by mines and artillery after moving in single file down a narrow road – a questionable tactic that destroyed Russian tanks last year.

“We would have needed more artillery systems and combat drones”

Nonetheless, Western officials remain optimistic. “Everything went according to plan on this axis,” says one. “The situation is okay so far,” says a Ukrainian military source, “but it’s really difficult…we needed more artillery systems and combat drones for the offensive to go the way we would have liked.”

Michael Kofman of the think tank CNA advises patience: “It is still too early to judge the operation as much of the fighting so far has only reached Russia’s first lines.

The indications are that Ukrainian forces have been making advances and digging into Russian lines, but also that fighting is heavy and causing casualties.” Few expected otherwise.

Will the counter-offensive be as difficult as in Kherson or as successful as in Kharkiv?

The crucial question is whether the offensive will be more like Kherson or Kharkiv. Last year’s Ukrainian attack on the city of Kherson was a slow, grueling and tenacious struggle, with entrenched front lines yielding only after months of inconclusive fighting.

In contrast, the Kharkiv attack quickly broke through a weak point in the Russian lines, with Ukrainian units advancing faster than the Russian defenders could regroup. The result was defeat.

The Russian lines are now much tighter and better protected than they were in Kharkiv, and the soldiers are of higher caliber. But the Ukrainian army is better equipped and trained.

The initial attacks in Zaporizhia could force Russia to move its meager reserves to the second and third lines of defense, eg to occupy trenches, leaving gaps elsewhere. Nor can Russia afford to simply move all of its troops south.

That’s because Ukrainian attacks in the east have also increased, with Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s army chief, attempting a pincer movement in Bakhmut. According to official information, the Russian lines there are well manned, but with below-average troops.

Destruction of the Kachowka dam was detrimental to both sides

Elsewhere, the floods caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam on June 6 have caused not only a humanitarian catastrophe on both the Ukrainian and Russian-controlled sides of the Dnieper, but also significant disruption to the Russian one defense positions in this area.

Journalists were asked to leave the area on June 8 as artillery battles intensified. If the waters recede, it could become easier for Ukraine to cross the river in eastern Cherson. The Ukrainian generals still have many irons in the fire, and this operation is still at a very early stage.

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