The Ukrainian Armed Forces’ counteroffensive and its outcome is the most expected event of the year in the Russia-Ukraine war.
In the first days of June, the Ukrainian Armed Forces launched an offensive in several areas of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, along the 200-km frontline from Vasylivka to Vuhledar.
Ukrainian counteroffensive in 2023 is different from those in 2022 – military expert
According to the military expert Serhiy Zgurets, the Defence Express director, the Ukrainian counteroffensive will be different from those in Kherson and Kharkiv regions conducted in 2022. This time, Russian invaders made thorough preparations. They built three defensive lines along the entire southern front and heavily fortified key occupied towns.
Ukrainians leveraged Storm Shadow, Himars and other advanced Western weapons in preparing the battlefield, destroying military depots, command posts, artillery, and air defence of Russian forces.
Ukrainian soldiers’ liberated 7 villages
In May, the Ukrainian Armed Forces destroyed a record number of artillery systems – 553, almost twice the previous record during the counteroffensive in the Kherson region. In addition, eliminating 645 drones and 38 air defence systems was an absolute record. All these actions have made Ukrainian counteroffensive brigades feel more confident during their advance in Russian positions.
Although the media have already published the first reports of Ukrainian soldiers’ movements and at least 7 villages liberated, Kyiv has not confirmed that this is the beginning of a broad and expected offensive.
However, in Moscow, authorities, including Putin, are convinced that it has started. The Russian Ministry of Defence has already issued several fakes about the start of the offensive. Despite this, the invaders have every reason to be concerned.
US leadership believes in the success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive
Suppose we consider the assessments of Ukraine’s readiness for a decisive strike by top foreign politicians and military officers. The former CIA Director and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff are confident of the successful movements of the Ukrainian Defence Forces.
“The Ukrainians to achieve significant breakthroughs and accomplish much more than most analysts are predicting.”David Petraeus, former CIA Director
“So I would tell you that the Ukrainians right now have the capability to attack, they can conduct offensive operations, and they also have the capability to defend, significantly enhanced from what they were just a year ago for conventional operations.”Mark Milley, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff
First counteroffensive movements caused panic and internal conflicts in Russia
The most important of these grounds is a series of “formational” operations in the military environment. However, the raids of the Legion “Freedom of Russia” in the Belgorod region, and before that, the attacks of “unidentified” drones in Moscow, Crimea and even Siberia, are very tangible elements of Ukraine’s strategic game.
These events caused panic and internal conflicts in Russia. Just consider the war of declarations between the owner of Wagner, the Russian mercenary company, Prigozhin and the Chechen leader Kadyrov, or Prigozhin’s criticism against Russian defence minister Shoigu. Apocalyptic moods are stirred up by Russian TV propagandists, who point out that the Russian Army is unprepared for a decisive strike by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
State Duma deputy from the United Russia faction Konstantin Zatulin: “What were our goals, officially stated at the beginning of the military operation? You all remember: denazification, demilitarisation, Ukraine’s neutrality and the protection of the residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, who have been suffering all this time. On which of these points have we achieved results to date? On none of them.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian soldiers have already tested Russian defence lines. First and foremost, we are talking about the successful and long-lasting defence of Bakhmut and counterattacks in this strategically important area of the Ukrainian-Russian war.
After exhausting the Russians (according to various estimates, the most capable group, the Wagner PMC, lost between 60 and 100,000 mercenaries in the battle for the town), the Ukrainians cut off the horseshoe horns the Russians were using to encircle them. Now, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces press service, our defenders are developing a local advance in five areas.
Weapons for Ukrainian Counteroffensive
Are the Ukrainian Armed Forces ready for a counteroffensive in terms of equipment? Even though the country’s political leadership keeps reminding its Western allies and partners of the urgency of arms supplies, the general impression is that there is no shortage of them right now.
A series of meetings of the leaders of the anti-Putin coalition, known as the Ramstein Group, has resulted in the Ukrainian Armed Forces being considered the most powerful Army in Europe. According to open sources, including Bloomberg, Ukraine has received more than 4,000 units of armoured vehicles, artillery, aircraft and other weapons systems during the year-long war.
These include Challenger 2, Leopard 2, AMX-10RC, Bradley and Marder tanks. During the Ramstein meetings, the Western allies agreed to create a tank coalition for Ukraine. It included: The United States, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, Britain, Canada and even Morocco, which promised 30 modernised T-72s.
Equally crucial for the counteroffensive are infantry fighting vehicles and other armoured vehicles. The leaders in supplying them are the United States, which has already provided 50 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and promised to deliver another 50 shortly, as well as Germany, which has given us 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles, and many American Stryker and Swedish CV 90s. In addition, Ukraine has received 1,100 armoured personnel carriers, 925 mine-protected vehicles, and 1,540 mobile infantry fighting vehicles.
The partners also handed over 95 MLRS, including 38 highly mobile artillery missile systems known as HIMARS and 37 self-propelled Gepard systems. 8 NASAMS missile batteries, two Patriot missile batteries, and six Stormer HVMs. Add to this 18 Su-25 attack aircraft, 40 helicopters of various modifications, and hundreds of drones. According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Ukraine has already received more than 98% of the promised equipment.
Of course, during the counteroffensive, there will be a need to replenish weapons, especially ammunition. Still, judging by recent statements, the allies are ready for this by setting up production and procurement. The most important gift from the British partners was the transfer of long-range Storm Shadow missiles, which helped the Ukrainian Army to carry out high-precision strikes on Russia’s military facilities in the Luhansk and Donetsk-occupied regions.
Comparison of Western and Russian armour vehicles
The German Leopard has a significant advantage over the best Russian T-72s, primarily regarding range. While the T-72 has a hit record of 2.1 kilometres and, on average, hits its target from 1,600 metres, the Leopard 2 can hit the enemy at a distance of 5 kilometres. In addition, Leopards have a much more powerful projectile due to a high-quality explosive mixture. Finally, the more modern Leopard 2 has better guidance systems and better fire control systems on the move. In contrast, the T-72 has a very problematic shot stabilisation on the move.
The Bradley BMP, armed with TOW anti-tank missiles, will undoubtedly compete with German tanks in hunting down Soviet tanks. The gun of the American vehicle, equipped with an M791 projectile, can turn a BMP-2 into a sieve at 2.5 km. In contrast, to damage a Bradley, a Russian armoured vehicle must come within a kilometre of it. The Bradley can reload on the spot, while the BMP-2 has to move away from the front line to reload. The BMP cannon has a 500-round capacity, while the M242 Bushmaster cannon (in the Bradley) has a 900-round capacity. In addition, there are many anti-tank weapons, but the BMP-2 has virtually none.
Western armoured vehicles are much heavier and have better protection for soldiers, and therefore are much better suited for counterattacks and breaking through defence lines.
Training of Ukraine’s military
The counteroffensive was in dire need of additional military personnel who could master Western models of equipment, learn new warfare tactics and replace brigades that had been defending the country for a long time without rest.
For this purpose, Ukraine mobilised additional reserves, and the military conducted training in NATO countries. How many brigades have been trained for the counteroffensive so far is a secret.
In 2023, about 19,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be trained in the UK alone. Twenty-six countries have agreed to conduct basic training under the INTERFLEX programme for Ukrainian recruits, including the United States, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Australia.
F-16 fighter jet coalition
In May, as part of the 12th Ramstein meeting, the allies finally agreed to provide Ukraine with 4th generation fighters, including F-16s. As with the tanks, several countries decided to give the Ukrainian Armed Forces their fighter jets and train pilots.
The “wing coalition” initially included the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France and was later joined by the United States, Denmark, Belgium and Portugal. Initially, it was said that it would take almost a year to train pilots and maintenance personnel for fighter jets. Still, later this timeframe was reduced to 4-6 months. Military expert Petro Chernyk said he believes the F-16s will still have time to participate in the autumn counteroffensive in September.
Ukrainian counteroffensive will take place in stages – military experts
Ukrainians began dreaming about a “counteroffensive” that could allow them to liberate from Russian occupation all of the southern and eastern regions the day after the liberation of Kherson in November 2022.
However, the counteroffensive cannot take place simultaneously along the entire frontline. Therefore it will take place in stages. Before the start of the first phase of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ offensive, there were discussions in the expert community about where the main attack of Ukraine’s Army would be concentrated: in Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia or Kherson.
According to the Ministry of Defence, in the first days of June, the Armed Forces have already liberated several settlements and almost 100 square kilometres of Ukrainian land.
Military analyst Serhiy Zgurets is convinced that the counteroffensive will be long-lasting, with decisive battles taking place in autumn.
Instead, the Western media are considering three possible scenarios: the successful one is reaching the Black Sea coast and the collapse of the Russian Army; the second one involves a less successful advance of the Armed Forces, limited Russian losses and the ability of the invaders to continue the war. According to the third scenario, the counteroffensive will not be successful.
If successful, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is confident that Ukraine will be able to negotiate on its terms. On the other hand, the West is preparing to implement a longer-term scenario, including the provision of security guarantees and military support, which will sooner or later lead to victory over the aggressor.
Thus, the counteroffensive is likely to be a partial stage of the war. Instead, it will be a series of operations in different parts of the frontline where the Ukrainian military leadership sees a weakness in the Russian defence in the occupied areas.