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Putin Has Big Plans: Why the War in Ukraine Is About to Heat Up

155mm
Blasting a 155mm Howitzer round during a gun calibration exercise at Destiny Range, Soldiers from 1-9 Field Artillery make the earth tremble as they fire over 30 rounds from an M109A6 Paladin, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Mosul, Iraq, April 23.

Ukraine Claims Russia is Preparing a Southern Offensive while Kyiv Prepares its Own – In recent days and weeks, Ukrainian preparations for an offensive towards the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson in the country’s south have increasingly picked up international attention. However, according to Ukrainian military leaders, Russia may be preparing an offensive of its own from the northern environs of Kherson and across other points of the wider southern front.

Ukraine’s Offensive Takes Shape

In late July, Ukrainian forces began targeting the three bridges which cross the Dnieper River close to Kherson which provide access to the city from the east. On July 27, the Antonovskiy Bridge, which connects the E97 highway to Kherson, was closed to pedestrian and vehicle traffic alike. Along with additional strikes on the Antonivskiy Railway Bridge, which destroyed the bridge, Ukraine is attempting to complicate Russian efforts to supply its forces fighting to the west and north of Kherson. However, Russia has begun to make use of pontoon bridges parallel to the old bridge to facilitate the flow of supplies and has claimed that it prevented further strikes on the bridge.

Since May, Ukrainian troops have liberated more than 50 settlements around Kherson, which some analysts have said is beginning to open the door for them to move towards the city of Kherson.

Battle for the South Picks up Steam

While Ukraine attempts to shape the battlefields of Ukraine for a future offensive, Ukrainian military leaders have also publicly expressed their belief that Russia may be planning an operation of its own. Since Russia’s withdrawal from northern Ukraine and the region around Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, Russia’s invasion has largely been focused on fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and making incremental gains there. However, it is increasingly apparent that a sizeable repositioning of Russian troops is occurring, which has seen troops previously posted to Donbas moving to the frontlines north of Kherson as well as on the southern approaches to the central city of Zaporizhzhia.

According to Ukrainian military commanders in the area, Russian troops were assembling in near Kherson and in the country’s south to either mount an offensive of their own or to counter Ukraine’s planned offensive. According to the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Russian troops were massing in the area north of Kherson to prepare for an offensive on the city of Kryvyi Rih, the hometown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. According to an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War’s August 3 assessment, Russian troops may be preparing for a general offensive from their current positions north of Kherson towards the city of Zaporizhzhia (which straddles the Dnieper) via the city of Nikopol, or they may be attempting to disrupt Ukraine’s offensive plans.

What has Russia said on the Subject?

Other than commenting on Ukrainian strikes on Kherson’s bridges and claimed Russian deflections of such attacks, official Russian sources have remained almost entirely mute about brewing battles near Kherson and in Ukraine’s south. Instead, claims of small-scale advances in Donbas have attracted more Russian media attention. There are two possible explanations of this. The first would be theories that Russia is, in fact, reinforcing a vulnerable element of its front line, which its triumphalist media and government reports would not be eager to highlight for fear of appearing that it has fallen on the defensive. On the other hand, if a northwards offensive is indeed planned, Russia could be motivated to stay quiet about the movements by a desire to keep its movements under wraps for now.

While Russia appears to believe it will be present in southern Ukraine for the long run as it sets up “referenda” to facilitate the annexation of such territories, Kyiv is likely eager to force Russia out of its southern territories if it can before Moscow can carry out its plans. As a result, the center of gravity of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could very well be shifting to Kherson and the rest of Ukraine’s south, at least for the time being.

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill as well as in the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

Written By

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill and the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. magneto

    August 5, 2022 at 9:12 am

    Russia has fallen for its own propaganda and sent more cannon fodder into an area that it cannot strategically hold. All it means is that when the ukraine counter offensive completes, that an even larger percentage of the Russian invasion force will be destroyed. This will make the Russian position in Ukraine even more weak than it was before and enable the triumphant ukraine to roll back most of not all of the Russian territory gains to date.

  2. Jon

    August 5, 2022 at 1:21 pm

    Once again, a piece that does not match the headline.

    Russia is pulling troops and materiel from the Donbas. Maybe to assist in Kherson, maybe in Zaporizhia. Both are areas where Ukrain has been chalking up some substantial gains, if not definitive.

    What isn’t being seen, is Russia being able to find any advantage in concentrating forces and removing focus on various fronts. They withdrew from Kyiv and the northern front, to no effect. They recently asserted a month-long ‘pause’ for regrouping, which showed no change in tempo or effectiveness. They have shuffled commanders, to no effect.

    Ukraine currently has the tactical advantage and momentum in Kherson and Zaporizhia, and has highlighted their investment. Kherson seems to be more strategically important at the moment.

    Russia has telegraphed their intent to trap Ukraine’s army in ‘Cauldrons’, which never manifest. Russia could very well find itself with substantial forces trapped in Kherson, with no avenue of retreat. That would mirror a number of historical circumstances in Crimea. Swimming the Dnipro is a bit easier than swimming the Azov Sea, but still a substantial obstacle to maintaining the fighting force.

  3. mcswell

    August 5, 2022 at 6:48 pm

    A map (instead of a picture of a US vehicle in Iraq) would help a lot. I know where *some* of these places are, but many I do not. The map could label major cities, but with additional labels (or better, call-outs) to the smaller locations mentioned in the article.

  4. Neil Ross Hutchings

    August 11, 2022 at 11:37 am

    I still cannot understand how the Russian military so easily crossed the Crimean/Ukraine border yet are having so much difficulty overcoming Ukraine’s defences in the Donbass. Yes, there was talk of Ukranian help to cross the Dneiper and occupy Kherson but one would have thought the Crimean border would have been as heavily fortified as the 2014 frontlines in the Donbass.

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