Ukraine’s counterattack takes Russia – and everyone – by surprise | Ukraine

A sudden and unexpected Ukrainian military success southeast of Kharkiv changes the analysis of Kyiv’s counterattack strategy. What was to be a well-telegraphed effort to isolate the city of Kherson in the south was upset by the sudden pushback against Russian forces at the northern end of the front.

The effort began on Tuesday and on Wednesday, the US Institute for the Study of War estimated that Ukrainian forces had, in a surprise attack, advanced “at least 20 km into Russian-controlled territory”. , taking up about 400 km2 (154 sq mi) in an area little studied by military analysts until now.

According a Russian military bloggeras underlined by Rob Lee, a former US Navy and Army analyst, Ukrainian forces mustered a “powerful tank fist” with 15 tanks to break through the occupation lines. Cleverly, Kyiv had set up its air defenses in support, preventing Russian jets from immediately returning fire to stamp out gains, a sign of more sophisticated battlefield tactics.

The fighting is centered around the village of Balakliia, about 45 miles southeast of Kharkiv – which still appears to be held by the Russians, but which Ukraine hopes to encircle – and near Shevchenkovo ​​on the way to the relay Russian. from Kupyansk. The military objective is to increase the pressure on Izium, a strategic town captured by the invaders at the end of April, the gateway to Western Donbass.

Map of Ukraine

What will happen in the coming days is, as always, difficult to predict. But the assumption is that Ukraine has taken advantage of Russia’s redeployments away from the north and east of the broad front line to launch its surprise attack, making it clear that it is prepared to be flexible and opportunistic – and that anyone who is sure of Kyiv’s strategy should instead be prepared to be surprised.

Compare that to the Russian approach. The forces led by the Kremlin are not used to thinking flexibly. When they announced an offensive, as happened in the spring, Moscow stuck to it and for several months made slow but real gains in the eastern Donbass using the simple and terrifyingly effective tactic consisting in concentrating its artillery on a succession of cities, today Bakhmut.

In recent weeks, however, the initiative has shifted from Russia to Ukraine – a point clearly demonstrated by this week’s events southeast of Kharkiv. The medium-term strategic prize for Ukraine remains the recapture of Kherson, due to its exposed position across the Dnieper and because the Russian-held bridges and river crossings that resupply the city seem easy to target.

Nevertheless, the progress near Kharkiv is significant, even if it is not certain that Ukraine can maintain it at the beginning of the autumn. Attackers usually suffer greater losses. A Swedish volunteer in Ukraine described, in an Instagram postthat only three soldiers of his platoon of 22 remain, four of whom were killed in “one shot” earlier this week by a tank grenade aimed at their bunker.

On the other hand, Ukrainian morale seems higher than that of their Russian counterparts as the war drags on into its seventh month. The country’s leaders are telling their allies they believe there is a short window until November when their forces can show they could beat back the Russians – and do much more in a well-planned spring offensive .

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