Although slow to start and painful to follow, Kyiv’s ongoing counter-offensive is beginning to make some serious gains in the area near the Crimean Peninsula. Since efforts to recapture territories commenced earlier this summer, the battle for Ukraine has been slower, more taxing, and bloodier than many analysts expected.
Casualties on both sides of the conflict are astronomical considering the short length of the war so far. Additionally, Moscow has lost significant amounts of its military equipment stockpiles. Despite these heavy losses, both Ukrainian and Russian troops are pressing on to achieve their respective war objectives.
While Kyiv has only regained a small portion of the territories currently dominated by Russian occupation, its troops are continuing to limit Moscow’s ability to wage war. Since the invasion began back in February 2022, the Russian military has been forced to rely on dwindling stockpiles of weaponry. The international community has largely sanctioned the Kremlin economically and Russian forces simply don’t have the resources and production abilities to keep up with the steady pace of its invasion. From main battle tanks to airframes to missiles, Moscow is struggling to keep up.
Open-source intelligence trackers estimate that Russia has lost at least 2,000 tanks over the last year and a half of warfare. From more modern T-90s to Soviet-era T-55s and T-72s, Moscow’s tanks have suffered at the hands of Kyiv.
The U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have provided Ukraine with billions of dollars worth of military aid since February 2022, which unquestionably supports the country’s defensive efforts. The American-made FGM-148 Javelin and HIMARS have been notably impactful in obliterating Moscow’s tank fleet. Kyiv has also developed its own loitering munitions which have been captured on video taking out Russia’s heavy weaponry on the battlefield.
Kyiv Ramps Up Attacks in Crimea
In addition to methodically diminishing Russia’s ability to resupply some of its weapons and equipment, Kyiv is tactfully targeting its invaders’ prime logistics hub – the Crimean Peninsula. Back in 2014, Russia invaded the Ukrainian territory and later annexed it. Obviously, this peninsula is hugely symbolic for Kyiv. Since Russia’s annexation, the peninsula has served as a key logistics hub for the country. Maintaining control of Crimea is essential for Moscow since without it, the country would be unable to maintain a presence in the northwestern Black Sea or supply its soldiers with incoming shipments. Ukraine’s persistent attacks targeting the peninsula are threatening Russia’s grasp on the region.
Earlier this month, Ukrainian forces attacked a warship and submarine while they were undergoing maintenance in Russia’s Black Seat Fleet’s Sevastopol port. According to an intelligence update by Britain’s Ministry of Defense, the Minsk landing ship was “almost certainly functionally destroyed” in the attack, while the Kilo class Rostov-on-Don submarine “likely suffered catastrophic damage.”
According to Ukrainian officials, this attack was particularly impactful since Russia no longer produces the type of landing ship destroyed in the barrage. One day following the Sevastopol attack, Kyiv carried out a subsequent operation that culminated in the damage of two ships in Russia’s Project 22160 fleet. One month prior, Kyiv deployed an experimental sea drone to strike Moscow’s bridge to Crimea. The Kerch bridge functions as a vital supply link for Russia’s ongoing military operation in Ukraine, making this attack and the potential for more a serious concern for the Kremlin.
More recently, Ukrainian officials claimed that an attack carried out by its secret service targeted an air base in Crimea. Although Moscow insists that its forces shot down each missile launched in the barrage, Kyiv denies this. In fact, Ukraine’s intelligence service asserted that at least one dozen combat aircraft and man-portable air defense systems were located at the base when it was attacked. Independent news outlets have been unable to verify either country’s claims.
Mapping Out Kyiv’s Progress
In addition to Crimea, Kyiv is making progress on other frontlines in the war. Earlier this month, Ukrainian forces succeeded in using dismounted infantry to move past Russia’s first line of defense near the town of Robotyne. According to an interview published by The Economist, DIA Director of Analysis Trent Maul disclosed that “after reaching Russia’s second line of defenses it is a realistic possibility that Ukrainian troops will be able to break through all of Russia’s defensive lines in southern Ukraine by the end of 2023.”
However, Maul also warned that limited ammunition and worsening weather could make this very difficult. “Had we had this conversation two weeks ago, I would have been slightly more pessimistic,” Maul told The Economist. “Their breakthrough on that second defensive belt … is actually pretty considerable.”
ATACMS for Ukraine?
The Biden administration recently reversed its policy surrounding ATACMS and Ukraine. Since the invasion began, the White House remained adamant that providing the longer-range cruise missiles to Kyiv was not going to happen. However, following Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent meeting with his American counterpart Joe Biden, Kyiv is set to receive these formidable weapons.
Regardless of Kyiv’s minimal successes so far in its counteroffensive, the war is still ongoing and could shift as time goes on.
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.
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