Ukraine’s counteroffensive is in full swing, and both sides are claiming small victories on the frontlines.
Kyiv’s push to recapture territories has moved slower than expected. Russian and Ukrainian forces alike have claimed minimal advances.
They are literally pushing forward meter by meter when they move at all.
This stagnation may be ending, however. Kyiv appears to be escalating its counteroffensive, with notable troop deployments this week. U.S. and Russian officials have said Ukraine has committed more forces to the southeast of the country, where Moscow appears to be weakest. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released a video showing the seizure of the village of Staromaiorske.
Is Kyiv’s Counteroffensive Picking Up?
Although Kyiv has not officially announced a ramp-up in its operations, the U.S. and NATO allies are reporting on the new push and noting some success for Ukrainian forces. According to the Institute for the Study of War, “an intense frontal assault” in Southern Ukraine launched over the last few days.
Moscow has also noted Kyiv’s push. A Russian military official acknowledged that Ukrainian forces have been able to “wedge in” multiple sections of Russia’s front lines in Zaporizhzhia, adding that they have managed to break these lines “as a result of several waves of attack with more than 100 units of armored vehicles.”
Western Aid Has Contributed
Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been highly anticipated since early in the year. It was delayed largely due to weapons shortages, Zelensky has said. The Ukrainian president often claimed that Ukrainian forces would not be ready to proceed until additional military aid arrived. Since the war broke out in February 2022, the U.S. and its NATO allies have provided Kyiv with weapons systems, training, munitions, and an assortment of unmanned aerial vehicles. Despite the many shipments of advanced weapons, Zelensky recently remarked that he wished deliveries would have “begun much earlier.” The Ukrainian leader also repeated his request for American-made long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS.
Will the U.S. Acquiesce to More Ukrainian Requests?
Ukraine has pressed for months to receive long-range ATACMS missiles. The Pentagon often responds that Ukrainian forces have more urgent needs, and Washington has yet to acquiesce to the demand. The White House is concerned that delivering ATACMS to Ukraine and providing its forces with the capability to strike deep inside Russian territory would escalate the conflict. Additionally, the U.S. does not want to deplete its own stockpiles of ATACMS. As the counteroffensive heats up, however, the Biden administration might reconsider. In the past, the White House has reversed its policies and ended up delivering advanced main battle tanks and cluster munitions to Kyiv. It even finally gave Ukrainian pilots the go-ahead to train on fourth-generation airframes like the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
While Kyiv continues to receive Western aid and military equipment, there is no guarantee of success for its counteroffensive. Last fall, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley asserted that the war “is not winnable anymore, militarily.” At the time, this notion seemed rather pessimistic considering how Kyiv shocked the world by its ability to repel Moscow’s initial invasion. The chairman added that, “Things can get worse, when there’s an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize it. Seize the moment.”
Can More Aid Reverse the Trajectory?
Members of the Biden administration distanced themselves from Milley’s remarks, as noted by the Washington Post. His statements were made in November 2022, while the U.S. was still working on getting advanced military platforms to Kyiv. Once Ukrainian forces were more thoroughly equipped with American-made weapons, anti-tank systems, armored vehicles, HIMARS, and more, it was thought, Kyiv would be better equipped to thwart Moscow’s advances.
But it might be time to reconsider Milley’s remarks.
The battle for Bakhmut may best represent the stalemate that the war has become. For months, thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers perished in the strategically unimportant eastern city. At one point in the war, Newsweek estimated that each kilometer gained by Russian forces equated to roughly 800 lives lost. While the Kremlin claims to officially control the city after months of intense fighting, Zelensky told world leaders at the G7 summit in May that in terms of Bakhmut, “there is nothing.” The Ukrainian president added that the Russians destroyed the city. “There are no buildings,” he said. “It’s a pity, a tragedy, but for today Bakhmut is only in our hearts.”
The battle for Bakhmut, and now the ongoing counteroffensive, are being fought meter by meter. Roughly a year and a half into Russia’s invasion, a swift defeat of one side or the other appears unlikely. Perhaps Milley was right, and the war will only result in the continued, fruitless loss of life.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.