Tantalizing pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive

11 September, 08:10 PM
Ukrainian military in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, September 2023 (Photo:REUTERS/Stringer)

Ukrainian military in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, September 2023 (Photo:REUTERS/Stringer)

Any "half-victory" is a victory for Russia and a defeat for the West.

The situation at the front is very tense. We have moved from total defense to a comprehensive campaign that includes a number of operations: defensive operations – Kupyansk and Lyman; counter-offensive operations – Bakhmut; and offensive operations – Melitopol and Berdiansk. It is challenging to synchronize all these operations when the Ukrainian Armed Forces are dealing with strong Russian resistance under severe resource (the volume and pace of supply of the necessary types of weapons by partners, lack of their own capabilities) and political constraints (in particular, the prohibition of the use of the provided weapons on Russian territory). And the fact that we are derided for the slow pace of the offensive, despite its good reasons.

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The main reasons include the following.

First, it is the powerful echeloned defense system that the Russian troops that they built in the last nine months. This is the time that we, together with our partners, gave Russia to create such a powerful defense. If we had received weapons on time and in the right quantities last year, the Armed Forces could have prevented the construction of such a defense. But Russia had their chance and took advantage of it and built a potent echeloned system equipped with solid fortifications and rather dense and long minefields. To overcome these obstacles, we are now spending time, energy, and, most importantly, the lives of our soldiers.

The second reason. Russia's quantitative superiority over Ukraine in manpower, mobilization, and economic resources remains. Although Russia is experiencing certain problems in mobilizing resources (including the loss of personnel and difficulties in training commanders for new units), Russia still has plenty of cannon fodder. In addition, due to the shortcomings in the sanctions regime, Russia also had the opportunity to put its military-industrial complex on a military track and, through "gray" or "parallel" imports, to obtain components, including from Western companies, needed to produce and replenish its technical weapons fleet.

Russia still has plenty of cannon fodder

However, the loss rate exceeds the accumulation rate of these resources. Therefore, it is a matter of gradual depletion of Russia's mobilization, economic, and technological resources. In particular, while 147 thousand people were supposed to be drafted into the Russian army in the spring of 2023, the losses in the first half of this year amounted to about 155 thousand killed and 300 thousand seriously wounded. Losing about 230 tanks every month, Russia's actual capabilities allow it to put only 70 into service.

The third reason is the already mentioned restrictions on the supply of Western weapons. The Armed Forces of Ukraine's needs for weapons are determined not by the whims of Zelensky or Zaluzhny, but by the scope of tasks on the way to victory. This is where the need for tanks, long-range missiles, fighter and attack aircraft, drones, etc. stems from. The situation is complicated by the fact that these needs are determined not only by the requirements of the front, but also by the requirements of the rear. Every day, we are subjected to artillery, drone, and missile attacks on Ukrainian cities, both in the frontline zone and in the deep rear. This necessitates long-, medium-, and short-range air defense systems that can be used to cover both cities and critical infrastructure, as well as defending and advancing troops.

Moreover, stockpiles of weapons and ammunition should be formed on the principle not "from today to today," but "from yesterday to the day after tomorrow." We still lack engineering equipment, which we have talked about for a long time. We receive it in small quantities. But given the echeloned defense system, we need many times more of this equipment. This includes mine-clearing vehicles and "manual" demining equipment that sappers can use.

Another group of problems is the problems of the Armed Forces themselves, which are hinted at by several Western experts who have visited the frontline areas and concluded that even if we receive the necessary weapons, the shortcomings in the tactics of use of force, planning, and management of operations will not allow us to achieve success. This picture, supported by the conclusions of respected experts, gets into the hands of biased Western politicians and plays an additional factor in deciding to refuse or delay the provision of the necessary weapons to Ukraine. One can feel the ears of a donkey sticking out in this picture, which reeks of Russian narratives about the expediency of stopping Western aid to Ukraine.

Both the Ukrainian Armed Forces command and domestic experts agree that many things could be improved: in the tactics of using forces, planning, and procedures for providing the Armed Forces with everything they need. However, if Western experts could name at least one foreign army that does not have such shortcomings and is better able to cope with them than Ukraine, their conclusions could be more readily accepted. But there are no such armies. No one has experience in waging a war of this magnitude. That is, no army in the world today, and no doctrinal documents of these armies, meet the requirements of the current war and the current situation in Ukraine. That's why, on the contrary, we need to learn our lessons and draw conclusions, not criticize and justify not supplying us with weapons by these shortcomings.

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The war is going on here and now. It has to be won here and now with what we have, not with what may be someday. Western armies reveal their shortcomings during exercises. It takes years to correct these shortcomings. We need to do it in real-time in a matter of days or weeks. The situation requires it. Our adversary does not give us breathing room to cope with these shortcomings. Supplying weapons is the only way to compensate for these shortcomings and the enemy's advantages. There is no other way. The Armed Forces are aware of these tactical and strategic shortcomings and are correcting them as best they can. However, many of these shortcomings are caused by the lack of weapons.

For example, we are told that you are building your tactics incorrectly because you have switched to small group tactics. But we only switched to such tactics because we faced such an echeloned defense that Russia could build because of the time delay in supplying us with tanks. Using large units, large assault groups against such a defense will force large units to stop, and lose their ability to maneuver, turning into very convenient area targets for enemy artillery to work on. The losses would be incomparable. That's why the Armed Forces of Ukraine switched to the tactics of small groups, the tactics of "gnawing through" the enemy's defense. Yes, this "gnawing through" is slow, but we can't even imagine any other pace.

Successful overcoming of the enemy's defensive lines by the Ukrainian Armed Forces allowed the Russians to use operational and strategic reserves or to redeploy from other directions, weakening certain sections of the front. This allows the Ukrainian Armed Forces to conduct offensive actions using the factor of surprise in several directions. Why and who does not like this strategy of the Ukrainian Armed Forces?

How quickly the counteroffensive will proceed will depend on how successfully we fight to overcome minefields. Secondly, how powerful our assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces with armored vehicles, long-range missiles, and air support will be. We understand that even if we have powerful tank "fists," the enemy, having air superiority, can slow down the pace of the offensive. Therefore, our success will depend on many internal and external factors. That is why making any time forecast for the situation at the front is challenging. But we have a goal – victory – and the desire and will to achieve it. What remains is to plan and realize this goal, considering our actual capabilities and limitations.

This is the kind of determination we need to demonstrate to our partners in order to dispel any doubts they may have about the feasibility of providing us with the necessary weapons. A critical argument should be the growing realization that this war is our common struggle against evil. If our Western partners do not want this evil to knock on their doors, they must do everything to stop this evil in Ukraine. There can be no "half-victory" here. Any "half-victory" is a victory for Russia and a defeat for the West. In such circumstances, if this is a joint war, accusing each other of doing something wrong is wrong. Everyone has to do their job.

One can understand some politicians and public figures in Western countries whose behavior is influenced by fear of Russia. So, once again, if you want these fears to stop someday, you have to win the war now. We need to eliminate the source of these fears. We need to explain this to our partners because there are a lot of such fears, with dubious justifications. For example: "What will we do with Russia after the war, since it is so big and powerful?" Who said that Russia would be big and powerful after the war? But isn't it powerful precisely because of such fears?

In this sense, in the West, there is a psychological effect; when the winner, for moral reasons, does not want to finish off the opponent in the hope that he will follow the rules and decisions of the arbitrator. But this is not true for such opponents as Russia, for whom there are no morals or rules, or for arbitrators.

If the thesis that Ukraine put forward at the very beginning – that the war will not end until Russia disintegrates – was not even close to being accepted by the West, now it seems that the West is beginning to agree with it. How this is manifested and how it can explain why we are not being provided with certain weapons – read in the next column.

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