Kyiv’s counteroffensive can change the trajectory of the war.
A successful push across the battlefield could force Russian President Vladimir Putin to the negotiating table. Conversely, a lackluster performance could drag the war on and increase the human suffering.
The Ukrainian Counteroffensive
Judging from the previous performance, the Ukrainians will perform well, but subsequent counteroffensives will be required to push the Russians out.
Back in September, the Ukrainian military launched a surprise counteroffensive in the east after feinting in the south. The result was a rout of the Russian military from the area around Kharkiv. In the span of just a few days, the Ukrainian forces liberated hundreds of square miles and dozens of settlements, destroying or routing several Russian units in the process.
A subsequent counteroffensive in the south in the direction of Kherson City saw similar success, and the Russian military had to withdraw from the western bank of the Dnipro River and also evacuate Kherson City, the only provincial capital captured by the Russian forces since February 24, 2022.
However, the two assaults weren’t enough to completely dislodge the Russian forces from Ukraine.
A similar result from the upcoming counteroffensive could very well kill Putin’s dreams of victory in Ukraine.
As far as when or where the Ukrainian military will launch its counteroffensive, it is still unclear. Kyiv has indicated sometime in the late spring or early summer, while it could strike in the east, south, the Donbas, or even a combination.
“That’s quite important. I can’t speculate on when, where or how the [Ukrainian] offensive may happen but I think it is no secret that Ukraine is keen to start the process of rolling back Russian forces in the conflict,” British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said during a press conference.
The Ukrainian military has to strike a careful balance between the right operational conditions and its preparedness. Kyiv has been waiting a long time for this counteroffensive and it wants to make the most out of it. That means having the necessary mobile reserves to take advantage of operational opportunities once the counteroffensive has begun but also to sustain the momentum.
“At the same time their (Ukrainian military) leadership needs to exercise and train in fighting at brigade or a battlegroup level – fight in the NATO manner or the western way,” Mr Wallace said, speaking at a press conference with his Swedish counterpart in London.
Sit, Watch, and Wait
In all of this, the Russian military is forced to sit, watch, and wait.
To be sure, the Russian forces have been working on their defenses for months now. In the south, in particular, the Russian military has created elaborate fortifications meant to stem a mechanized attack. But other than that, the Russian military can do little but sit, watch, wait for the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Moscow might have some mobile reserves ready to throw against the Ukrainian forces once the attack has begun, but their training, equipment, and morale won’t be the best.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.