Monday, April 17, 2023

War News In Review: Is there going to be a Ukrainian spring offensive this year?

    Monday, April 17, 2023   No comments

Since Russian troops pulled back from the Kherson region west of the Dnipro River, Ukrainian politicians built a narrative about a counter offensive that would result in their troops taking back Crimea. It was convincing enough of a sales pitch that many previously hesitant NATO nations decided to supply the Ukrainian government with almost everything they asked for, including advanced tanks, guided missiles, and more ammunitions.

The counteroffensive that was supposed to start late in winter was rebranded as the Spring Offensive. Halfway through spring 2023, and no major Ukrainian troop movement has been detected anywhere in the frontlines except the redirection of elite troops to defend the Russian offensive already underway in Bakhmut and Avdeeva (Avdiivka) fronts. 

From studying the control maps compiled by multiple sources, including Ukrainian activists, over the past three months (not the year), for every square mile reclaimed by Ukrainian forces, Russian forces gained more than 100 square miles. Importantly, the gained territories are cities and towns, including Bakhmut and Avdeeva, turned by the armed forces of Ukraine into shielded fortresses, protective trenches, and secretive tunnels and underground bunkers.

Over the past year, the only zone Russian troops were forced out of because of a Ukrainian offensive was in the northeast region of the Donbass region—Kharkiv front. There, Russian troops were pushed back from areas they wanted to control. Russian generals believed that the loss there was due to their forces being spread too thin over a long active frontline. 

The generals who suffered the loss were rotated out and new generals were appointed, many of whom had experience fighting urban warfare in Syria. Soon after taking over command, they recommended the creation of fortified, defensible frontlines. The plan was approved and troops were pulled to the west side of the major river dividing Ukraine into the Western territories and the eastern territories—Dnipro River. Russian generals did not just use the Dnipro River as a defensive line that separated them from Ukrainian troops, they destroyed the bridges once they moved to the east side; they conducted a similar tactical retreat in the northeast using the Oskil River to limit a massive attack by Ukrainian troops. These moves essentially cut the open active frontlines by about 40%, leaving them with only 60% of contact space, to which they allocated more resources.

In fact, it is conceivable that the gains in Bakhmut and Avdiivka were made possible by the adjustments made in Kharkiv and Kherson Oblasts—thanks to the use of natural barriers, rivers and dams, to make any large-scale attack by Ukrainian troops very risky and manageable by fewer Russian troops while the majority are utilized elsewhere. This worked in favor of Russia since it needed time to train and equip the newly mobilized troops--about 300,000 of them, many are still going through specialized training.

Russian troops have also learned from their mistakes during the early days of the military operation. They realized that drones, though have limited effects compared to fighter jets, they can nonetheless inflict huge damage on troops bogged down in open spaces.

Ukrainian troops were able to inflict some losses using Turkish drones; Ukrainians even made a song about the Bayraktar TB2 Drones. From that experience, Russians learned that cheap drones can in fact change the outcomes of battles and they can inflict crippling damage on exposed troops marching on the offense. Russian leaders not only reached out to allies to purchase drones, which was quickly used, but they ramped up production of their own drones and guided ammunition.

When all this is taken together, it becomes clear that moving heavy war machines to retake territories, in the presence of cheap drones and guided missiles that can be launched from afar, is very risky. Even if Ukraine receives enough of the promised tanks from US, EU, and NATO, these tanks will be vulnerable especially when they have to be moved across river and open spaces.

For Ukrainian troops to retake Crimea, they will have to use a large number of armored vehicles and tanks and they have to be able to cross the mentioned natural barriers. This makes the Zaporizhzhia frontline the likely path for launching an attack southward.

Ukrainian politicians may have set the bar too high for themselves. Perhaps they had to do so to be able to get more weapons from their NATO allies. However, now that they have received the weapons they asked for, they must show that they can deliver on their promises.

From what is known from the data in the public domain, if they do undertake a massive counteroffensive, they will lose the battle and such a loss may decide the outcome of the war. But because of the rhetoric they put out, and the support they received, it is possible that they know that the outcome of the war will be decided this year one way or another. That does not mean that the war will end this year; but the direction of the war will be decided this year. If a pridiction must be made, then it can be concluded that there will be no Ukrainian spring offensive this year that will result in Ukrainian forces taking back Crimean or any other major regions; and if Ukrainians muster one, they will lose the war because of it.



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