Even as Moscow’s war machine crawls into Ukraine’s east, trying to achieve the Kremlin’s goal of gaining complete control of the country’s industrial heartland, Ukrainian forces remain in Russian-occupied territory to the south. Increasing attacks to retrieve.
Ukrainians have used US-supplied rocket launchers to attack bridges and military infrastructure in the south, forcing Russia to withdraw its forces from the Donbass in the east to counter the new threat.
With the war in Ukraine now in its sixth month, the coming weeks could prove decisive.
While the bulk of Russian and Ukrainian military assets are concentrated in the Donbass industrial zone of mines and factories, both sides hope to make profits elsewhere.
Ukraine has vowed to expel the Russians from territory seized since the start of the invasion, including the region south of Kherson and part of the Zaporizhzhya region, while Moscow promised to capture the occupied territories and take more land around it. has done. Country.
The Donbass included Luhansk Province, which is now wholly controlled by Russia, and Donetsk Province, about half of which is in Moscow’s hands.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said that by intensifying attacks in the south, Kyiv has forced Russia to spread its forces.
“The Russian military command is thrown into a dilemma: to try to suppress the offensive in the Donetsk region or to build defenses in the south,” Zhdanov said. “It’s going to be difficult for them to do both tasks together in the long run.”
He noted that rather than attempting to launch a massive, all-out counter-offensive, Ukrainians sought to weaken Russian forces in the south with a series of attacks on their weapons and fuel depots and other key sites.
“It’s not necessary for a one-on-one attack,” Zhdanov said.
Moscow-backed local authorities in Ukraine’s east and south have said they will vote on joining Russia in early September. Those plans rest on Russia’s ability to gain full control of those territories until then.
“The main goal of the Kremlin is to force Kiev to sit down for talks, secure the existing line of contact and hold a referendum in the autumn,” said Mykola Sunhurovsky of the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based think tank.
He said Western weapons have enhanced Ukraine’s capabilities, enabling it to hit targets behind the front lines with a high degree of accuracy.
Ukraine has received about a dozen American-made HIMARS multiple rocket launchers and used them to attack Russian ammunition depots, which are needed to maintain Moscow’s lead in firepower. The HIMARS system has a range of 80 kilometers (50 mi), allowing Ukrainians to hit the Russians beyond the reach of most enemy artillery.
“It’s a serious advantage,” Sunhurovsky said. “The Ukrainians have launched precision attacks on Russian depots, command posts, railway stations and bridges, destroying logistics chains and undermining Russian military capability.”
Ukrainian attacks on warship storage sites have locked down Russian forces, allowing them to move material to scattered locations away from war zones, lengthening supply lines, reducing Russian advances in firepower, and Russian invasions to the east. helped slow it down.
“They’ve got to bring everything down to the smaller, more scattered reserves,” said Justin Crump, a former British tank commander, head of Sibylline, a strategic advisory firm. “These are all real bottlenecks that slow down Russia. They have been affected by the speed of artillery fire, which was really important before.”
Crump said the Russian military had underestimated the threat posed by HIMARS and left its ammunition depots at known locations. “They thought that their air defense would shoot down missiles. And it really was not,” he said.
In a series of attacks that helped boost the country’s morale, Ukrainians repeatedly used Himars to attack an important bridge across the Dnieper River in the Kherson region, cutting off traffic across it and into the area. Raised potential supply problems for the Russian military.
Ukrainian military analyst Zhdanov described the bridge as an important link for Russian military supplies on the right bank of the Dnieper.
Russia can still use the second crossing on the Dnieper to supply and reinforcements to its troops in Kherson, which lies in the north of the Crimean peninsula seized by Russia in 2014. But Ukraine’s attacks have shown Russia’s vulnerability and weakened its hold on the region. ,
“The river is behind the Russians. It’s not a great place to defend,” Crump said. “They cannot get supplies easily. Morale is probably quite low at this point on that side of the river. ,
He said Ukraine could eventually launch a massive counterattack involving a large number of troops and weapons.
“This is an opportunity for Ukraine, I think, to strike a more forceful blow at the Russians and push them back,” Crump said. “I think it’s more likely to be tried here than we’ve seen at any other point.”
Crump noted that the prospect of a major Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south helped Kyiv by forcing the Russians to withdraw some of their forces from the main battlefield in the east.
“It’s slowing the Donbass’ offensive,” Crump said. “So the threat of an offensive to Ukraine at the moment is also really succeeding.”
Danika Kirka in London and Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia contributed to this report.