In Ukraine

By Geoffrey Roberts. Originally published on CTPAHA.UA.

Translated by Geoffrey Roberts

Ukraine War map. courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A year ago, on 4 June 2023, the offensive of the Ukrainian Armed Forces began.

 

The Russian Federation knew about the offensive in advance. The direction of the main attack (Southern Front) was no secret – it had been openly discussed since the end of 2022, both in Ukraine and in the West. All the while, the Russians strengthened their fortifications.

 

It seems the specific time of the attack did not come as a surprise to the Russians. As the Russian Ministry of Defense reported, at the beginning of the offensive, Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, Gerasimov, was personally present on the Southern Front, in command of the defence. It was not some “Stirlitz” or “Sorge”, sitting in the Ukrainian General Staff who leaked the date of the offensive. By that time, both sides had, with the help of drones, established tight surveillance tens of kilometres behind the front line – so the deployment of UAF’s forces could be detected by the Russians in advance.

 

Great hopes were placed on the offensive. Its goal was to cut the land corridor to Crimea, gain access to the peninsula and isolate it through constant attacks on the Crimean bridge, which would make its retention extremely problematic for the Russians.

 

But the offensive did not go according to plan. Despite heavy losses, it achieved minimal success and stopped in October 2023.

 

The result was summed up by the then commander-in-chief of the AFU, Valery Zaluzhny, in his famous article for The Economist, where he wrote the situation of the First World War was being repeated, when defensive systems completely neutralised the offensive potential of the enemy. Zaluzhny believed the situation at the front had reached deadlock.

 

The failure of the offensive also changed the mood of Ukrainian society, in which the authorities had created expectations of a quick victory. Frustration and war weariness began to grow. This also had practical consequences for the front, expressed in massive evasion from military service and the disruption of mobilisation plans.

 

At the same time, Zaluzhny’s forecast was not fully justified. There was no stalemate. The Russian army seized the initiative and went on the offensive, capturing Marinka, Avdeevka, penetrating Chasov Yar and Krasnogorovka, and occupying part of the border territories in the Kharkov region. Its offensive is slow but sure.

 

In large part, it was the Ukrainian offensive of summer of 2023 which showed that even in the current conditions it is possible to attack and achieve success, if this is done in small groups with minimal use of armoured vehicles. It is slow and involves heavy losses, but if you hit one point like this for a long time, with strong fire support, you will get results. The UAF was thus able to advance to Rabotino and to the Vremevsky ledge.

 

However, the mathematics of reserves decides everything. This tactic only works if one side has more reserves than the enemy. And the mathematics are not in Ukraine’s favour. Russia has more reserves. By the autumn, the UAF offensive had halted and the Russian army went on the attack, using its advantage in firepower (especially with regard to FABs).

 

The further course of events depends on whether the mathematics of reserves remains in Russia’s favour. Will Ukraine be able to neutralise the Russian Federation’s advantage in firepower and neutralise the FAB factor? Will both sides maintain control of their troops and prevent a critical decline in combat effectiveness and discipline in conditions of a bloody, exhausting war?

 

The failure of last year’s UAF offensive destroyed the hopes of Kyiv and the West for a quick victory over Russia, leaving a fork with three options:

 

First: a long war of attrition that risks defeat by Ukraine being exhausted faster than the Russian Federation (although the risks for Russia are also considerable). Second: NATO countries enter the war, which carries the risk of nuclear conflict. Third: stopping the war along the front line under conditions that both sides could present as victory (Ukraine retains statehood, Russia secures control over the occupied territories).

 

That fork remains.

*****

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