3 June 2022, 05:47 PM

Ukraine’s counter-offensive in Kherson Oblast. What will Russia do?

Ivan Yakovina

NV journalist

For the past few weeks, Ukraine has suffered a really harsh situation on the battlefields, which is why no one expected any counter-offensives in the south

There is not much reliable information about this operation, but what we do know we can talk about here. The counter-offensive includes at least three directions, which have resulted in the liberation of three villages so far: Mykolayivka, Davydiv Brid and Snigurivka.

The most serious advance by the Ukrainian army is likely happening close to Davydiv Brid, according to the maps that we have. There, Ukraine’s army has managed to get closer to the Dnipro river – which means advancing east by 10-15 kilometers from the Ingulets river. Therefore, Ukrainian servicemen have successfully crossed the Ingulets, reached its left bank, and are moving further, to the Dnipro.

This operation is supported by a relatively large number of Ukrainian troops. They were able to withstand and overcome Russian resistance in that area, creating quite a large position on the left bank of the Ingulets river for further advances. Ukraine having a reliable position to the east of the Ingulets is really bad news for Russia: it means that when the Ukrainians at some point achieve an advantage in having more weapons and better artillery, then the southern region will become a base for their advance to the East.

One more important thing: how did the southern counter-offensive operation become possible in the first place?

Before, there weren’t many Ukrainian attacks at all, but now they are happening. The reason is this: in the Donbas area, especially near the city of Severodonetsk, the Russian army had to concentrate as many of its own troops as possible – as they were needed for their own advance. Still, so far, Russia’s attempt to encircle Ukrainian troops in the Donbas has been unsuccessful.

According to U.S. intelligence, the western part of Kherson Oblast – which is on the right bank of the Dnipro river that flows to the south – is controlled by Russia’s 49th army. However, we also know from the U.S. intelligence that the 49th army is severely understaffed and has around half the number of servicemen that such a unit should have.

By Russian standards for military staff, an army should have two divisions or four brigades. But the 49th army has only two brigades – which is only a half of what it is supposed to have. Again, this is happening due to a catastrophic shortage of personnel in the Russian Armed Forces.

Given the shortage of personnel in the 49th army, it is likely to have troops amounting to 10-15,000 servicemen who are stationed on right bank of the Dnipro river. Meanwhile, the curve of the frontline in Kherson and Mykolayiv Oblasts is way too long for 15,000 Russian troops to defend from Ukrainian counter-offensives. To keep control over such a vast area, Russia has to deploy a large number of aircraft and artillery units.

During the past several weeks, the situation on the battlefields for the Ukrainian army has been really hard – that’s why nobody really expected any counter-offensive action in the south.

But there you go: Russian soldiers in that area are now seriously troubled by the Ukrainian advance, with panic among them on the rise.

The Russians weren’t really expecting this from the Ukrainian side. They are worrying, panicking and scratching their heads. I saw this type of mood among Russians when the Ukrainian army pressured them in the area to the north of Kharkiv, making many Russian troops to retreat from there.

The Russians were making a lot of complaints about the Kharkiv situation: They lacked effective commanders, soldiers were just running away from battlefields, then there was a shortage of officers etc. Same thing is happening in Ukraine’s south.

However, the Kherson territories that are now occupied by the Russian army have their own realities of life. Some local collaborators from the occupational administration were saying few things about the changes happening in the region: Kherson will now have Russian rubles circulating as an official currency, all the Ukrainian mobile networks will be blocked, while if you have a Russian phone number – you’ll still be able to communicate. But, of course, all communication with Russian numbers in Kherson Oblast are subject to interception by the security services.

If you have any friends or relatives in Kherson Oblast, warn them to think twice before saying anything during a phone conversation. Especially if they already have Russian mobile numbers. All of the phone calls made with such a number will be intercepted.

Overall, the Russians are trying to act in the Kherson area as quickly as possible. They are still up for some sort of annexation – if not of the sort that happened in Crimea in 2014 when it was supported by the Russian parliament – then a de facto annexation that would lead to Kherson Oblast becoming a part of the Russian Federation.

The Russians are dreaming of including Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast to the list of their official territories. This is not going to happen, but Russian dreams are Russian dreams.

You might ask: Why do you think this is not going to happen? It’s because right now the Ukrainian army is demonstrating its own ability to conduct successful counter-offensive operations, while the Ukrainian south will probably see many such operations in the future.

Ukraine is not going to give away Kherson Oblast to Russia just because the Kremlin is dreaming about this – Ukraine will fight very hard for its territory.

Another important thing is that Russia will have to deploy troops from the Donbas to the south, to Kherson Oblast. And maybe not only from Donbas, but from other areas as well. Otherwise, the Ukrainian army will be quite easily able to liberate the southern region, while it’s a strategically important region, being as it is a neighbor to the Crimean peninsula.

During the Russian invasion, Crimea has been playing an important role for Russian logistical chains. Meanwhile, logistics are considered to be the weakest part of the Russian army.

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