UKRAINE’S SUMMER COUNTEROFFENSIVE began in earnest in the first week of June. This followed months of intense fighting around Bakhmut, where Putin’s forces – led by Yevgeny Prighozhin’s Wagner mercenaries – were halted in a faltering and extremely costly Russian assault in the Donetsk Oblast.

In the aftermath of the savage – but ultimately unsuccessful – Wagner-led offensive around Bakhmut, Prighozin led his mercenaries on a wild advance towards Moscow, halting briefly in Rostov on Don. Prighozin demanded that Putin hand Russian military commander General Valery Gerasimov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu over to his paramilitaries for summary treatment.

Alamy Stock Photo A portrait of Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen at the makeshift memorial near the Red Square in the center of Moscow after his plane was shot down. Alamy Stock Photo

This extraordinary development – falling just short of a coup attempt – happened in late June, just as Ukrainian forces were shaping and developing their counteroffensive against Russian positions. As I predicted at the time, Prighozin’s challenge to Putin’s authority would lead directly to his death just over a week ago.

The aftermath of Prighozin’s challenge to Putin and the subsequent and ongoing purge within the Kremlin and the wider Russian military provides some context for the current progress and prospects for Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

First of all, President Zelenskyy’s counteroffensive has been painfully slow. I use the word ‘painful’ as any gains made by Ukraine have come at a massive human cost. Ukraine does not publish its casualties, but in conventional military operations, the attrition rate among attacking forces is generally higher than that of defending troops in heavily fortified, static positions.

Since June, Ukraine has maintained offensive operations along the entirety of the 1000 km front – from Kherson in the west, with heavy fighting around Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Further east, Ukraine continues to mount probing attacks around Bakhmut and is rapidly preparing potential defensive operations in Luhansk and Kharkiv Oblasts – where Putin has concentrated forces for a possible assault on Kupyansk.

Advertisement

Ukraine has made some progress across this extended front. Just recently, Zelenskyy’s forces have managed to cross the Dnipro River, gaining a strategic foothold at Kozachi Laheri – approximately 40km east of Kherson. This is a significant development and the Ukrainian military will seek to consolidate their positions here and exploit advances south along the E97 road network – toward the Black Sea coastline.

Further east, Ukraine’s forces are reported to have liberated the town of Robotyne. This is a very significant development as it represents a breach of Russia’s second tier of in-depth defences in the strategic Zaporhizhzhia province. Having taken Robotyne, Ukraine will hold the strategic high ground in this area and would be poised to manoeuver south through Novoprokopivka and Tokmak towards Melitipol. This is a distance of less than 100km. If successful in this endeavour, Ukrainian forces would sever Putin’s ‘land corridor’ from Russia’s Rostovskaya Oblast to the Crimean Peninsula.

These advances have come at a very high cost. In the last three months of relentless fighting, a pattern of ground combat has emerged. Ukraine, lacking air superiority, has evolved its own hybrid strategy of battlefield tactics in order to dislodge Russian forces and to re-take Ukrainian territory.

Alamy Stock Photo AUGUST 24, 2023 - President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy is pictured during a joint press conference with Prime Minister of Norway Jonas Gahr Store in Kyiv. Alamy Stock Photo

Zelenskyy’s forces have used conventional combined arms tactics against entrenched positions – intense, converged and creeping artillery fire – followed closely by engineers with specialised de-mining systems and intensive mine clearance operations to clear pathways for tanks and infantry mounted in armoured fighting vehicles.

The Ukrainian military has been forced to mount these assaults with little or no air cover and is vulnerable to Russian counter-battery fire and drone and airstrikes on their troops in the open. To ameliorate these challenges, the Ukrainians have made highly imaginative use of drones to precision-target Putin’s artillery positions, logistics and ammunition dumps and troop concentrations. One of the lessons of this conflict will likely involve the deployment of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to all military formations – organic and integral to all units.

Ukraine has also made significant use of open source intelligence (OSINT) and digital data – often from mobile phone communications among Russian ‘Mobiks’ or mobilised reservists.

The re-taking of territory has involved a recurring cycle of frontal, attritional assault as described. Once pathways have been cleared, the leading armoured units – equipped with Leopard tanks and other variants supplied by NATO member states – provide precision or ‘intimate’ fire support to allow the infantry to approach Russian trenches. What happens next is brutal hand-to-hand combat, where Ukrainian troops assault Russian reservists at close quarters, at gunpoint with grenade and bayonet attacks. A great deal of footage of this type of savage combat has made its way onto digital platforms and is widely shared on social media.

September heralds the arrival of autumn and Ukraine will be keen to exploit this emerging ‘gap’ in Putin’s defences in Zaporizhzhia and re-take Melitipol. If Zelenskyy’s forces can reach the Sea of Azov – they will inflict a major defeat on Putin’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. The window of opportunity for Ukraine to achieve this strategic objective is narrowing with the approach of winter and it is conceivable that this war will rumble on into next spring – making Putin’s ‘3 day war’ a marathon two-year catastrophe.

Read Next

Related Reads

United States announces $250 million in new military aid for Ukraine

Wagner chief Prigozhin buried in private funeral in St Petersburg, spokesperson says

Russia says it intercepted two drones near Crimea as Kyiv retakes village on southern frontline

Alamy Stock Photo Putin attends a ceremony remotely, 1 September. Alamy Stock Photo

Putin’s forces have not yet lost the initiative in this war and are concentrating their forces – perhaps as many as 100,000 reservists – for a possible offensive to re-take parts of the Kharkiv Oblast. However, in the aftermath of Prighozin’s assassination – a major purge of Russia’s general staff is underway.

Along with these Kremlin figures, several other senior Russian generals have been sacked, disappeared or killed in action. These include General Valery Gerasimov who is said to be ‘resting’ – along with the deputy director of Russian Intelligence, General Vladimir Alexseev, General Vladimir Seliverstov of the 106th Airborne Division, General Ivan Popov of the 58th Army, General Andrey Yudin of the Air Force, General Nikolay Gostev of the 4th Air Force Army and General Mikhail Mizintsev, the ‘Butcher of Mariupol’. General Oleg Toskov was recently killed in action in Ukraine. All of these ‘resting’ or ‘disappeared’ Generals were heavily involved in directing major Russian combat operations – and possible war crimes – throughout Putin’s botched invasion of Ukraine.

Whilst Ukraine continues to endure Putin’s criminal invasion, and whilst it continues to lose thousands of young men and women in combat – their motivation to fight is assured, they are fighting for their very survival. Putin’s mobilised reservists or ‘Mobiks’ will find it difficult to continue fighting and dying for Putin’s increasingly futile vanity project. Their military leadership is in disarray and Prigozhin’s act of defiance – and its aftermath – have seriously undermined Putin’s authority and the ability of his military to deliver an unambiguous ‘victory’ in Ukraine.

To continue this conflict – in the face of unsustainable casualties, along with a possible rout in Zaporizhzhia – Putin will come under increasingly hostile scrutiny from within the Kremlin itself. Yevgeny Prigozhin’s prophetic warning should be noted here – ‘I have to be honest, Russia is on the brink of disaster. If these cogs are not adjusted today, the plane will fall apart in mid-air’.

Dr Tom Clonan is a retired Army Officer and former Lecturer at TU Dublin. He is currently an Independent Senator on the Trinity College Dublin Panel, Seanad Éireann.

Making a difference

A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can make sure we can keep reliable, meaningful news open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

Support us Learn More

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can make sure we can keep reliable, meaningful news open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

QOSHE - Ukraine's counteroffensive comes at a high price, but Russia is in disarray - Tom Clonan
menu_open
Columnists Actual . Favourites . Archive
We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

Ukraine's counteroffensive comes at a high price, but Russia is in disarray

18 2
04.09.2023

UKRAINE’S SUMMER COUNTEROFFENSIVE began in earnest in the first week of June. This followed months of intense fighting around Bakhmut, where Putin’s forces – led by Yevgeny Prighozhin’s Wagner mercenaries – were halted in a faltering and extremely costly Russian assault in the Donetsk Oblast.

In the aftermath of the savage – but ultimately unsuccessful – Wagner-led offensive around Bakhmut, Prighozin led his mercenaries on a wild advance towards Moscow, halting briefly in Rostov on Don. Prighozin demanded that Putin hand Russian military commander General Valery Gerasimov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu over to his paramilitaries for summary treatment.

Alamy Stock Photo A portrait of Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen at the makeshift memorial near the Red Square in the center of Moscow after his plane was shot down. Alamy Stock Photo

This extraordinary development – falling just short of a coup attempt – happened in late June, just as Ukrainian forces were shaping and developing their counteroffensive against Russian positions. As I predicted at the time, Prighozin’s challenge to Putin’s authority would lead directly to his death just over a week ago.

The aftermath of Prighozin’s challenge to Putin and the subsequent and ongoing purge within the Kremlin and the wider Russian military provides some context for the current progress and prospects for Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

First of all, President Zelenskyy’s counteroffensive has been painfully slow. I use the word ‘painful’ as any gains made by Ukraine have come at a massive human cost. Ukraine does not publish its casualties, but in conventional military operations, the attrition rate among attacking forces is generally higher than that of defending troops in heavily fortified, static positions.

Since June, Ukraine has maintained offensive operations along the entirety of the 1000 km front – from Kherson in the west, with heavy fighting around Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Further east, Ukraine continues to mount probing attacks around Bakhmut and is rapidly preparing potential defensive operations in Luhansk and Kharkiv Oblasts – where Putin has concentrated forces for a possible assault on Kupyansk.

Advertisement

Ukraine has made some progress across this extended front. Just recently, Zelenskyy’s forces........

© TheJournal


Get it on Google Play