Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson is slow

Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson is slow

At the end of July, the Ukrainian army launched a counter-offensive to recapture Kherson, the city in southern Ukraine captured by the Russians at the beginning of the invasion and currently one of the most important ones under their control. In the face of this counter-offensive, the Russians had moved soldiers and fortified positions that, if successful, could have guaranteed Ukraine great military success and helped secure the country’s access to the Black Sea.

After more than two weeks, however, the fighting seems to be encountering a certain difficulty: the Ukrainians are advancing very slowly, with well-aimed attacks, but without significant advances in the field, probably due to a lack of artillery and trained soldiers in sufficient numbers.

Kherson is important primarily for its location: it provides access to the port city of Odessa, a Russian target since the beginning of the war, and from there to the Black Sea, and the region in which it is located is also home to aqueducts and canals that facilitate transport allow water into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which is controlled by the Russians.

Kherson was captured in the first days of the invasion, and in it the Russians use violence, intimidation and attempts at forced assimilation of Ukrainian culture: their liberation has been one of the main Ukrainian goals since the beginning of the war.

Over the past two weeks, the counter-offensive launched by Ukrainian forces at the end of July has enabled some successes on the ground. Ukrainian forces have destroyed Russian ammunition depots and command centers in the region, thanks to HIMARS missile launchers sent to Ukraine by the US in late June, which are capable of more precise strikes at longer ranges.

The Ukrainians have also destroyed the three bridges over the Dnipro River, which allow the thousands of Russian soldiers in the area to resupply with weapons and reinforcements further east, in the Donbass. Those bridges are now “unusable,” a Ukrainian army spokeswoman told Politico: all of which severely hamper the Russians’ ability to transport other soldiers or other weapons and heavy vehicles to Kherson. On the outskirts of the city, the Ukrainian army said it had liberated a number of small towns.

However, there was no significant progress on the ground near Kherson. It seems that the Ukrainian army is not making very good progress and, despite the well-aimed attacks, is not able to gain ground. Several reconstructions in the last few days have mostly spoken of Ukrainian soldiers taking refuge mainly in trenches, protected from possible bombing by the Russian army, which still has a great advantage in terms of heavy artillery and armored vehicles.

According to various analysts, it would be extremely difficult for the Ukrainian armed forces to continue and try to gain ground without suffering major casualties. Phillips P. O’Brien, Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, told the New York Times: “Unless you have complete control of the skies and the ability to clear the area in front of you own troops, whoever advances really risks being eaten ».

Some statements by Ukrainian army officials suggest that Ukrainians themselves are aware of the difficulties involved in conducting a successful counteroffensive. In an interview with the RBK-Ukraine website, Dmytro Marchenko, the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces in the region, said: “I would like to tell the people of Kherson to be patient.” “We haven’t forgotten them,” he added added, “but you have to wait a little longer.”

However, over time, retaking Kherson could become more complicated. Konrad Muzyka, an expert at Rohan Consulting, a defense consulting firm, told The Economist that at the end of July, at the start of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, there were about 13 tactical groups of Russian battalions in the Kherson region, including several hundred soldiers): Today, Muzyka said, seem to be between 25 and 30, more than double.

According to several analysts, the Ukrainian army would need more heavy weapons to mount a sufficiently fast and successful counteroffensive. Other analysts, like Jack Watling of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, also heard by The Economist, believe Ukraine’s greatest need for better-trained soldiers is as the more experienced ones who have fought so far are exhausted. The problem, Watling says, is that it takes time to train enough soldiers for a counteroffensive. And too slow or strenuous an advance could also end up eroding the morale of Ukrainian forces deployed in the region.

However, according to other analysts, the deadlock may not last long for Russia either: Michael Kofman, who studies Russia at CNA, a research institute in Virginia, for example, believes that the Russians’ position in Kherson is “the least defensible” among those of the conquered territories, especially now that the destruction of the bridges across the Dnipro significantly impedes the arrival of weapons and reinforcements.