The sentiment among Western observers is that Ukraine’s spring offensive is coming, and the only question is when. On Thursday, however, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky clarified that more time may be needed for Kyiv’s forces to prepare – even as many newly formed combat brigades might be ready to attack.
“We can go forward, and I think, be successful. But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time,” Zelensky said in an interview with media outlets including the BBC.
At issue is that some of the armored vehicles pledged by Western nations have yet to arrive, and Ukraine still lacks many of the weapons that could prove vital to the success of the campaign. This includes artillery systems that have a range of 300 km (190 miles), and which are capable of striking Russian ammunition depots and command centers.
If a Ukrainian counteroffensive fails to gain significant territory, Kyiv’s Western partners could lose faith that Ukraine can actually push Russia out of its territory altogether. That may put pressure on Zelensky and the Ukrainian government to accept an unfavorable peace deal with Moscow.
Zelensky has made clear that option is simply unacceptable.
“They can’t pressure Ukraine into surrendering territories,” Zelensky said. “Why should any country of the world give Putin its territory?”
The decision to wait for greater readiness comes just a week after Czech President Petr Pavel — a decorated retired general and formerly NATO’s principal military advisor — warned Ukraine’s leadership against a rushed counteroffensive that could prove a disaster.
There are also fears within the Biden administration that a Ukrainian counteroffensive could fall short of expected goals. A classified intelligence memo that was leaked online earlier this year warned that Ukraine simply does not have the ability to push back Russian troops from places where they are deeply entrenched.
Russia’s Hardened Defenses
That Ukraine plans to launch a counteroffensive isn’t exactly a well kept military secret. However, when and where Ukraine will launch its attack is still unknown, and Russia has been kept guessing. Moscow’s forces have attempted to further fortify defenses along a frontline that runs for some 1,450 km, from the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk to Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
Anticipating an assault, the Kremlin’s forces are doing what so many armies have done throughout history — they’ve dug in. This has included massive trench lines, but even that has come at an unexpected cost. Just last month, soldiers digging a de facto “Putin Line” in Southern Ukraine uncovered a burial ground of cattle, and were exposed to anthrax in the process.
There is also a line of thinking that says Kyiv cannot afford to wait too long, thus leaving Russia the time it needs to regroup and prepare to effectively blunt an attack. Earlier this week, Russian forces near the eastern city of Bakhmut were forced to pull back from some recently taken ground, and Ukraine’s military was able to advance by some 2 km. This might be a sign that even though Russia has significantly greater numbers of troops on the ground, the Kremlin might not be able to win the war either.
“This war has proven that scale alone is not a factor the way it was in World War II,” Dale Buckner, CEO of international security firm Global Guardian, told Newsweek. “Technology, training, will and morale, which the Ukrainians have, all matter.”
A Ukrainian counteroffensive is coming – it is just a matter of when and where.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.