December 9, 2023

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Ukraine signals counterattack approaching: What to know about the upcoming fighting

The long-awaited counteroffensive in Ukraine is approaching, with senior commanders and defense officials declaring that Kiev has nearly everything it needs to launch a successful offensive against the occupying Russian forces.

“Preparations are under way,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told a news conference. Press Conference Friday, adding that they are “mostly ready” to attack.

that followed Remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg He says Ukraine is now in a “strong” position to recover occupied territories in the east after the bloc delivered 98 percent of the combat vehicles promised to Ukraine, including about 1,550 armored vehicles and 230 tanks.

While it appears that when the attack will be launched has come into focus, it is unclear if it will be as successful as previous Ukrainian operations.

Even with the new shield, said Michael O’Hanlon, director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution, he had “modest” expectations of attack because of the heavy Russian fortifications.

“Russia has a lot of anti-tank weapons and multiple other lines of fortification,” he said. “Ukraine has a limited ability to provide air support for these incoming armored units and may have a limited ability to support them as they move away from their local support bases.”

“So I don’t expect major breakthroughs, but I’ll be glad if I’m proven wrong.”

The armor entering Ukraine includes German Leopard tanks, British-made Challenger tanks, and infantry fighting vehicles from Western allies, such as the American-made Strykers and Bradleys.

They are far more advanced than the heavy Soviet-era armor Ukraine used during the successful counteroffensives in Kharkiv and Kherson last year.

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Ukraine has also received more MiG-29 fighter jets from allies like Poland, giving it a slight boost in air capability, though Kiev is still outclassed in the skies by Russia.

Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, told Senate armed forces lawmakers on Thursday that he was “very confident” that Ukrainian forces have the military equipment they need to attack.

He said Washington and Kiev worked together on a war game and compiled a list of weapons required for the operation, which the US has drawn from its own and allied stockpiles over the past few months.

“We’ve got almost everything in Ukraine, and I’m sure they have what they need for the offensive we planned with them,” Cavoli said.

But he also warned that important parts of Russia’s military remain intact — including cyber, nuclear, information operations and undersea warfare, such as submarines — despite months of heavy casualties in Ukraine.

Cavoli said at a hearing earlier Wednesday with the House Armed Services Committee: “A lot of the Russian military has not been negatively affected by this conflict.”

“We must not make the mistake of underestimating Russia’s military capabilities because the risks of getting them wrong are too great,” Celeste Wallander, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, added at the hearing.

Most of the recent fighting in Ukraine has been focused on the eastern front lines around the industrial city of Bakhmut. But Ukraine is expected to launch its own counter-offensive in the south as well.

Ukrainian forces have been observed establishing positions on the eastern side of the Dnipro River, an area that could be used as a staging post for a move to retake Crimea, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

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Moscow knows where Ukraine is most likely to strike – in the southern region of Zaporizhia, where Kiev will seek to cut a land bridge to the Russian-occupied peninsula.

Russian military bloggers cast doubt on the prospects for the success of the counterattack, though they do expect a massive operation.

Alexander Kuts, a blogger with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, said “Kiev will put in everything it can” for the operation.

“The Russian leadership has an understanding of the inevitability of the next attack,” he said. “A difficult period awaits us, in which the good news will be that the enemy was unable to advance through our defensive formations.”

Leaked Pentagon documents indicate that the US is not confident that Ukraine will make any significant gains soon, and the protracted war is likely to extend beyond 2023.

But O’Hanlon of Brookings said Washington has underestimated Kiev before, and Ukraine has the potential to split into entrenched Russian positions, which do not have enough mobility.

“It’s possible. It’s basically possible to go over some of these trenches,” he said. “Again, you [going to] You take losses and you suffer losses while you do it, but it’s not like the moat is completely impenetrable somehow.”

Trench lines can be overcome with bulldozers and explosives, said O’Hanlon, a reference to Operation Desert Storm in 1991 when US forces overran Iraqi positions entrenched in Kuwait.

Ukrainian ingenuity may also play a role. During the counteroffensive last fall, Ukraine deceived Russia by hinting in public media reports that it would strike in Kherson, but instead went to Kharkiv.

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It is unclear whether Russia would have fallen into a similar fake head trap if Ukraine had lobbed it before the attack.

But Ukraine’s Defense Ministry published a statement on Telegram earlier this month noting that its counterattack was “finally chosen in such a way that the enemy cannot respond.”

“The armed forces are not currently preparing one thing – for a specific period in a specific direction,” the statement said. “The Armed Forces prepare a full range of defensive and offensive countermeasures every day.”

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