Key Point: Ukraine’s recent breakthroughs in the south is forcing the Kremlin into desperation.
Here Comes Ukraine
Despite a slow start to its counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces have made recent inroads into Russian-occupied territory along the southern front, most notably with the liberation of Robotyne earlier this month.
Sixty miles to the east of the village, Ukrainian marine corps ejected Russian troops from Urozhaine in the Mokri Yaly River Valley.
Both victories present the possibility of an operational breakthrough for Kyiv in southern Ukraine.
Why Putin Needs to Worry
Along much of the front, Russian forces have held firm in their defense of occupied territories.
However, Ukraine now carries momentum in their advance to liberate Melitopol and Mariupol after deploying the 82nd Air Assault Brigade – one of its few in-reserve formations – to capture Robotyne.
The strategically important cities safeguard Russian supply routes through occupied Crimea – the only land route to mainland Ukraine for the invading forces.
With resources declining, the Kremlin is now forced into using its remaining reserves as death tolls rise.
The 76th Guards Air Assault Division
Russia is committing arguably its strongest reserve division to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Zaporizhzhia, redeploying forces from the Kreminna sector in northeastern Ukraine to the Robotyne-Tokmak-Melitopol axis.
“According to Russian military doctrine, at least on paper, 76th Division is a part of their strategic reserves, underscoring the seriousness of the move,” a Ukrainian reserve officer wrote on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday.
The 76th Division – which oversees three infantry regiments each with thousands of troops – has been a consistent fixture on the frontline since February 2022. The division played an important role in the Battle of Kyiv in the maiden stages of Russia’s full-scale invasion, and reportedly participated in the Bucha massacres around the same time.
Following Russia’s retreat that spring, the division – along with T-90 and T-72 tanks and BMP-2 and BMD fighting vehicles – were redeployed east before a later relocation to the Kherson oblast in August 2022.
Despite ultimately failing to prevent the liberation of Kherson, the 76th Division inflicted heavy casualties on the Ukrainian forces.
Ultimately, the Kremlin’s desperation to reinforce defenses on one part of the frontline could weaken its capabilities in another.
The Institute for the Study of War noted how a “lack of sizable operational reserves would force the Russian command to conduct further lateral redeployments and make decisions about what sectors of the front to prioritize.”
What Happens Next in Ukraine
Quite simply, Russia faces the prospect of being forced to defend the east, or the south; it’s unlikely that such a large breakthrough by Ukraine will allow them to hold both.
With Ukrainian attacks on Crimea in recent months highlighting the peninsula’s strategic and symbolic importance to Russia, it comes as no surprise to see the Kremlin risking its most experienced reserves to hold ground in the south.
Shay Bottomley is a British journalist based in Canada. He has written for the Western Standard, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, Windsor Express, Berkshire Live and Southend Echo, and has covered notable events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
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