Could the anticipated counter-offensive in Ukraine finally be in progress? Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to believe it is. In a recent video interview, he definitively stated that the Ukrainian offensive has begun.
In reality, the operation has been underway for weeks. Ukraine has been carrying out “shaping operations” in military parlance. These involve long-range artillery and missile strikes on vital Russian logistical targets beyond the front lines.
A shift was noticed on Monday when small groups of lightly armored Ukrainian units advanced across open fields towards Russian fortifications in southern Ukraine, southeast of Zaporizhzhia. Serhii Kuzan, co-founder and chairman of the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Centre, informed that the “fighting reconnaissance” stage is currently underway across the entire length of the front, probing Russian defenses.
Some reports indicate initial difficulties, with varying degrees of success and resistance from the Russian forces. Despite these challenges, Kuzan did not disclose specific locations but mentioned that these were all in the area south of Zaporizhzhia.
On Tuesday, the world’s attention was drawn to the dam’s destruction at Nova Kakhovka and the ensuing flood covering about 230 square miles on either side of the Dnipro River. The incident appeared to be no accident. The dam and the road across it were strategic points of attack for Ukrainian forces trying to keep Russian troops on the back foot.
Kyiv had shown interest in this part of the front line multiple times. For example, Ukrainian soldiers crossed the river in late April and briefly established a foothold at Oleshky. Ukraine also took control of several small islands in the Dnipro delta near Kherson.
Kyiv’s plans for this region have yet to be discovered and have been rendered moot due to the devastating flooding that will make river crossings untenable for some time. Nonetheless, Kuzan indicates that the Russians have noticed this potential direction.
As Kyiv authorities grappled with the flood’s aftermath, the fighting continued and seemed to intensify further east. On Thursday morning, the UK Ministry of Defence announced that heavy war was ongoing along multiple front sectors, with Ukraine maintaining the initiative in most areas.
However, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that Russian forces had repelled an overnight Ukrainian attack involving 150 armored vehicles and 1,500 troops south of Zaporizhzhia. An online video, allegedly showing a western-supplied Leopard tank being destroyed, is yet to be verified by the BBC.
Hanna Malyar, the Deputy Defence Minister, subtly hinted that Russian troops were actively defensive around Orikhiv, roughly 65km southeast of Zaporizhzhia. She also confirmed ongoing battles around Velyka Novosilka, further east.
There’s been significant commentary on pro-Russian Telegram channels about Ukraine’s latest moves, with many questioning the losses in men and equipment. Additionally, there’s been intense fighting in areas north and south of Bakhmut, one of the war’s longest and bloodiest battle scenes.
Despite this complex operational picture, Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, downplayed the idea of a dramatic new phase in the counter-offensive.
Even with the front lines moving, Ukraine faces considerable limitations, the most significant being the lack of air support due to a shortage of fighter jets. As a result, their progress is slow, and air defense systems are gradually moved closer to the front lines.
The current offensive is expected to last up to five months, after which the autumn rain will once again render open ground impassable for heavily armored vehicles.
If Ukrainian forces manage to breach Russian lines, reaching the Sea of Azov, the Russian troops west of that breach would become significantly more vulnerable, relying entirely on supply lines through the Crimean Peninsula. This, Kuzan claims, would lead to the endgame scenario: destroying the Kerch Bridge that links Russia with Crimea and attacking ships and planes ferrying supplies to the peninsula.
However, Kuzan warns that such a victory is not imminent and will likely take several months to materialize.