The Ukrainian counter-offensive was announced and planned for a long time, details were kept strictly secret. The first Ukrainian attacks started a few days ago, but the outcome is still completely open. And in some places things did not go as well for the Ukrainians as initially hoped.
“There were more Russians than we expected,” a 35-year-old platoon leader from Ukraine’s 21st Mechanized Brigade who took part in an attack in the southern Zaporizhia region told The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). His German Leopard 2 tank eliminated the Russian opponents. But then more and more units of Putin’s soldiers were added to replace them. The Russians fought him with rocket-propelled grenades, but these ricocheted off the tank. The soldier also reports that the battlefield is littered with mines and the gains are smaller than hoped.
“It was a wall of steel. It was horrific.”
The plan was, Ukrainian soldiers told WSJ, to push south towards the Russian-held city of Tokmak in the southern Zaporizhia region. Two other Ukrainian units were also to advance towards Tokmak from different sides. As soon as the regiment crossed a road outside the city, a 28-year-old soldier said the Russians fired at them with rockets.
“They were just waiting for us … positions were prepared everywhere,” he told the “WSJ”. “It was a wall of steel. It was horrific.” The Russian troops the soldiers encountered were a mix of professional soldiers and conscript men. However, their combat discipline is worse than that of Ukraine.
“They are screaming and running around like crazy,” Kopa, a member of a Ukrainian reconnaissance unit, told WSJ. “Our mood is fine, but I really need some sleep.”
A successful offensive could mean further support
Russia had several months to prepare its troops for counterattacks in the occupied areas in the south of the country. Ukraine wants to break through here and cut the land bridge between Russia and Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014. Ukraine’s summer offensive could decide whether it succeeds in driving Russian forces out of Ukrainian territory. Almost 20 percent of the country is currently occupied by Russia in violation of international law.
A successful offensive could embolden the West to keep supplying Kiev with weapons and money. A failure could fuel international calls for a cessation of fighting and negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine fears this could dashed hopes of restoring its borders.
In the area of Velyka Novosilka in the Donetsk region, however, the Ukrainian advance seems to be gaining momentum, according to WSJ. In a small town behind the front line, soldiers would report a steady advance, taking villages and Russian prisoners.
Western tanks are an important part of the offensive
Meanwhile, Russian military bloggers hailed images that appear to show the destruction of numerous vehicles. However, according to Western military analysts, most of the videos published on the Internet showed hits from the same tanks from different angles. Apparently, however, two Leopards and four Bradley tanks were destroyed. Also, a French armored personnel carrier and an American Oshkosh fighting vehicle were destroyed. This was confirmed by the independent team of analysts “Oryx”, which follows the losses of both sides in the Russian war of aggression.
“You just have to say: It’s war, and during war devices are destroyed,” said military expert Carlo Masala from the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich in an interview with ZDF. “The problem with Ukraine is that it’s attacking. And they don’t have the strength to attack.” The good news, however, is that the soldiers in the attacked Leopard tanks were not killed. “This shows how important modern, western equipment with good armor is for the Ukrainian soldiers in this offensive,” Masala said.
Ukraine is attempting the seemingly impossible
“The Ukrainian Armed Forces are attempting something that no other European military is currently capable of: conducting sustained, large-scale combined arms operations against an equal opponent in a high-intensity state-to-state war,” said Franz-Stefan Gady, Military Analyst at the London Institute for International Strategic Studies.
Of Western forces, only the US is capable of conducting the kind of complex offensive that Kiev is currently attempting, but Ukraine lacks US air strength, for example, Gady said.
So far, Ukraine has only deployed limited forces and has not put all its cards on the table, retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commander of the US Army in Europe, told the WSJ.
“Some of what we’re seeing may be designed to confuse the Russians as to where the main attack will be,” he said. When the main thrust of the Ukrainian offensive comes, it will likely involve formations of several hundred tanks and armored personnel carriers.