Not a “Hollywood breakthrough” but a “dangerous moment for the Russians”

The breakthrough on the southern front longed for by Ukraine and the West had been stalled for weeks. Now progress has been made along the first line – which experts believe could be dangerous for Russia.

The Ukrainian counter-offensive stalled for a long time, and the front lines didn’t seem to be moving – but now Ukraine has made a breakthrough along the important southern front near Zaporizhia. Armed forces were able to break through the Russians’ first line of defense, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maljar said. The army continues its offensive operations in the Melitopol region.

“Our forces had successes near Novodanylivka and Novoprokopivka,” she said. Both are smaller towns in Zaporizhia Oblast. In addition, Kiev has recaptured three square kilometers near the embattled city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian counter-offensive had already begun in June. Kiev wants to liberate the Zaporizhia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Cherson regions, some of which are controlled by Moscow, from Russian occupation. The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, is also to be reconquered.

At present the troops are sandwiched between the first and second lines of Russian defenses in the south, Brigadier General Oleksander Tarnavskyi, commander in Zaporizhia Oblast, told the British Sunday Observer. Successes of the Ukrainian army around the town of Robotyne have already been reported in the past few days. The Russian troops are currently trying to win back lost areas through counterattacks.

Why was the breakthrough so difficult?

A much faster breakthrough had originally been expected, but the Ukrainian counteroffensive had long been hampered by a huge minefield in the region. This hampered the evacuation of wounded and complicated the advance, according to Ukrainian General Tarnawskyj.

When crossing the minefield, emergency services were also heavily fired upon. According to military analyst Allan Orr, the Ukrainians have not been adequately equipped or trained by NATO, he told the US news magazine Newsweek.

Why was the breakthrough possible despite all the difficulties?

This could also be due to the state of the Russian army. According to the Russian battalion commander Alexander Khodakowski, defending the south-eastern regions, his troops are under “extreme physical and psychological stress”. The new report by the US think tank for the Study of War (ISW) on Saturday concludes with reference to Khodakowski’s statement that the situation for Russia is deteriorating.

The soldiers would constantly experience Ukrainian artillery fire. Khodakowski expressed doubts that the “exhausted Russian units will be able to repel future attacks by the Ukrainian offensive on these front sectors,” according to the ISW report.

How do you rate the breakthrough?

According to experts, the breakthrough can be considered positive for the Ukrainians. According to Brigadier General Tarnavskyj, the Russian troops had already expended around 60 percent of their resources and time on the first line.

Only 20 percent of the resources can be expected for the second and third line of defense. The US Institute for War Studies ISW also spoke of the progress made by the Ukrainian armed forces, and the situation of Russian troops was becoming increasingly worse.

It’s not about a “Hollywood breakthrough”, but about a gap in the Russian defense, said military expert Marcus Keupp on ZDFheute. This must “be five to ten kilometers wide – and they then push the heavy material, i.e. their reserves, through this gap.” Ukraine is in the process of identifying this gap. “So this is a very dangerous moment for the Russians.”

What’s next?

According to Brigadier General Tarnavsky, the Ukrainian army is moving further towards the Russian-held cities of Tokmak and Melitopol on the Sea of ​​Azov. It has not yet been announced how large the area that has already been reconquered there is. The goal is to reach the Sea of ​​Azov, about 90 kilometers away, and to cut off the Russian troops.

According to military expert Marcus Keupp at ZDFheute, Tokmak is of central importance, as several important country roads and an important railway line run through this area. From there, Russian logistics could be prevented “very efficiently”, Keupp continued. Tokmak is a “kind of sentry post” for the area up to the Black Sea coast. As soon as Ukraine could reach the Black Sea coast and shell Crimea, the war would be tactically lost for the Russians.

According to security expert Christian Mölling in the stern podcast, the Ukrainians still have about two months before the weather makes major movements impossible. However, much is gained if one manages to expand a wedge to the south “so that one can keep the entire land mass up to the Sea of ​​Azov under artillery fire”. This would make supplying Russian troops more difficult.

Jean Harris

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