Ukraine’s counter-offensive is gaining momentum

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“PLEADERS quiet,” wrote Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, on June 4. “There will be no announcement about the beginning.” Oleksii Reznikov, her boss, said it more lyrically: “words are very unnecessary,” he tweeted, citing a song by Depeche Mode. “They can only do harm.” Their attempt at obfuscation has been successful. Days after Ukraine went on the offensive, there’s little sense of how well, or how badly, it’s going. Perhaps that’s just how Ukrainian generals are like him.

The first sign of a new phase of the offensive came on June 4 and 5, when Ukrainian units advanced to Velyka Novosilka and into Novodonetske, southwest of the Russian-held city of Donetsk. . That area may have been vulnerable, notes Rob Lee of King’s College London, because Russian naval forces there were severely depleted after failed attacks on Ukrainian positions last week. spring, and because other units were sent to Bakhmut, a town in the east that was captured by Russia in May. after a year long slog.

Russian military bloggers sounded the alarm on Telegram, a social media app, as Ukraine pledged military vehicles in larger quantities than seen in months. Ukraine now seems to be working through the first line of Russian defense in the region, suggests Gustav Gressel from ECFR, a think tank. Progress is slow due to mine fields. More obstacles and attacks will follow if Ukraine wants to advance south to the port cities of Berdyansk and Mariupol, two possible targets.

Elsewhere in the south, Ukraine has also been stepping up rocket and missile strikes on Russian positions behind the front lines. Among them are attacks on Mykhailivka, Melitopol and Tokmak in the central region of Zaporizhia, which offer another possible route south to the Sea of ​​Azov. Some Russian military bloggers suggested that Ukrainian forces were already searching in an area south of the city of Zaporizhia – without progress, they said.

But what is clear is that Ukraine is investigating not only there, but over an entire front that spans more than 1,000km. Picture the Russian army as a long line, with one end at Kherson in the south, the Russian left, and the other at Luhansk in the northeast. Our analysis of infrared satellite data, which shows the fires caused by shelling and strikes, shows that June 6 was one of the most intense days since the start of the war, with the most fires the territories currently controlled by Russia.

There is frenetic activity at both ends of the Russian line. In the north, on the southern side of Russia, Ukraine has been attacking Svatove, a town in the Luhansk region. It had advanced by a measly 400 meters, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the head of the Ukrainian ground forces, said on June 4. Ukrainian forces have been probing around Luhansk again over the past six months: in November there were hopes of a breakthrough, although it never materialised. Western officials say Russia’s defenses there appear to be shaky again.

In addition, Russia is becoming more and more attractive with raids even further north of the established front lines. In recent weeks, Ukrainian-backed militias have made rampant incursions into Russia’s Belgorod province, prompting Russia to turn resources and attention to a previously quiet part of the border. . On June 5, the Russian Volunteer Corps, one of those militias, said it killed a Russian colonel in one such attack.

At the other end, in the south, on the left side of Russia, the most dramatic development came on June 6 when the Kakhovka dam collapsed, causing massive floods throughout the Kherson region. Russia blamed Ukrainian saboteurs. And the dam had come under increasing physical pressure, with war damage and rapidly rising water levels. But Ukraine had accused Russia of mining the dam a few months ago, to cover its escape from the city of Kherson in October and November. If Russia did it – as Western officials suspect – its aim may have been to push Ukrainian operations across the Dnieper river. These would have been difficult, but not impossible – small-scale raids had been going on. Ukrainian progress here seems improbable for now.

Meanwhile, fighting has not stopped in the East. On June 5, Ms. Maliar said, commenting on the dramatic developments in Novodonetske, that Bakhmut was still the “epicenter of hostilities”. Ukraine was advancing on a “very wide front” there, she said, capturing the great heights around the city. There was also fighting towards Soledar, to the north, suggesting that Ukraine might be hoping to surround Bakhmut. By recapturing the city, that would eliminate the one great advantage that Russia had in the past year. Greater vigor in the surrounding Donbas region would also allow Ukraine to recapture territory it lost in 2014 and, more importantly, undermine Russia’s stated rationale for the war – eastern “liberation”.

Taken together, these military developments show that after weeks of preparatory missile strikes and other operations, the counteroffensive is entering a new and more aggressive phase of combat, one that is likely to the amount in the coming days. The confusion regarding the position of Ukrainian forces, the pace of progress and the direction of the country’s main effort is a testament to Ukraine’s success in keeping its plans and movements under wraps.

Even seasoned experts are still guessing. Despite some spies among Russian bloggers, there is still no definitive story about Ukraine’s most advanced new tanks and other weapons. “I assume there will be larger attacks to draw Russian reserves before the real main objective,” says Pekka Toveri, a retired Finnish major general and former head of military intelligence. the country. All options are on the table, he suggests. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a major offensive to retake Bakhmut and another towards Mariupol.

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