Russo-Ukraine War - May 2023
On 24 February 2022, Ukraine was suddenly and deliberately attacked by land, naval and air forces of Russia, igniting the largest European war since the Great Patriotic War. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "special military operation" (SVO - spetsialnaya voennaya operatsiya) in Ukraine in response to the appeal of the leaders of the "Donbass republics" for help. That attack is a blatant violation of the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. Putin stressed that Moscow's goal is the demilitarization and denazification of the country. The military buildup in preceeding months makes it obvious that the unprovoked and dastardly Russian attack was deliberately planned long in advance. During the intervening time, the Russian government had deliberately sought to deceive the world by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
"To initiate a war of aggression... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." [Judgment of the International Military Tribunal]
Russia believed that the Ukrainian conflict is a US proxy war against it, with Ukrainian soldiers serving as cannon fodder. Moscow said Washington prevented Kiev from signing a peace agreement with Russia in the first months of the conflict, telling Zelensky to continue fighting instead.
The outcome of the conflict largely depends on the upcoming counteroffensive. The West stepped up the supply of weapons only after receiving a firm promise from the Ukrainians to go on the attack, Politico reported, citing an anonymous official. And the results of the operation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will directly affect the further support of Kyiv.
According to the influential publication Politico, the Pentagon leadership has been supplying Western weapons to Ukraine for the past four or five months precisely in anticipation of the spring offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles were sent there, as well as vehicles for building bridges. Thousands of soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been trained at NATO training grounds. A fair supply of 155-mm shells, which were so lacking in winter, is also provided. Proxy troops are not yet given planes, but American medium-range missiles are being added to the MiGs. And, of course, the Americans provide the Armed Forces with a full range of intelligence.
A counteroffensive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine with the aim of de-occupying Ukrainian territories previously occupied by Russia is expected, according to Kyiv, in the near future - in late spring or early summer. To do this, the Ukrainian authorities requested armored vehicles, ammunition, including missiles with a range of over 150 kilometers, and F-16 aircraft from the Western allies. Rockets and planes Ukrainian military, according to official statements, never received. At the same time, according to British intelligence, the Russian army has equipped a record number of fortifications in modern history in territories that can be attacked by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. On 07 May 2023, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov warned that "expectations for a counteroffensive are overstated." The head of the military department explained that many people in the world "are waiting for something grandiose".
Ukraine’s notorious late spring mud season, which makes swaths of fields and forests impassable even to tracked vehicles, may be the biggest determining factor. One key feature of russia's defense lines are famous dragon's teeth, pyramidal anti-tank obstacles that can effectively impede or slow down mechanized or motorized units during an attack. These obstacles can be particularly effective in combination with other defense measures. Once a few places are breached it’s possible to cut the troops from the rear, making the rest retreat to avoid encirclement. This is a very likely scenario. Siegfried Line, which was deeper, mined and fortified - was breached in some areas within 30 minutes.
By the end of April, Ukraine was to prepare 12 combat brigades of 4 thousand people each to launch a counteroffensive in the south. Western countries are training and supplying 9 out of 12 brigades. A large portion of the combat-ready, equipped and motivated cadre units of the AFU (as well as the NGU and Territorial Defense) had already been destroyed in Mariupol, Artemovsk, Soledar, Popasnaya, Lisichansk, Severodonetsk and during the battles in the Kherson and Kharkov regions in the summer of 2022.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said after the Rammstein Contact Group meeting deliveries of 230 battle tanks, An American tank battalion consists of four tank companies, a headquarters and service company, one antitank platoon, and one scout platoon. The tank companies, each consisting of 14 M1A1 tanks, are the basic tactical unit with which the battalion accomplishes its mission. tank battalion organization has remained relatively stable - 4 or 5 tanks per platoon, 3 or 4 platoons per company and 3 or 4 companies per battalion. Ukrainian tank battalions consist of 31 tanks, with 3 companies of 10 tanks each.
Apart from the combat experience and capabilities of the grouping, it is not clear which forces are the combat-ready vanguard and which are support units (the so-called "tooth-to-tail" ratio). About 50,000 of the 100,000 troops assembled are actually combat-ready, the rest are support and sustainment forces. When attacking, Ukraine will need its troops to outnumber the defenders, and it can only muster such numbers in limited areas. Even if it punches through Russia’s defenses, it will need to exploit such breakthroughs carefully, or risk its troops being encircled.
The US expects Kiev to launch a counterattack against Russian troops in May, using weapons from NATO countries, Politico reported on 15 March 2023, citing unnamed American officials. US military aid packages “going back four or five months have been geared toward what Ukraine needs for this counteroffensive,” one source cited by the outlet said on condition of anonymity.
Kiev is preparing the operation even as its manpower and resources are being drained, Politico reported, by its continued clinging to the Donbass city of Artyomovsk, which it calls Bakhmut. The city, which senior US officials assessed has only symbolic significance, became the scene of some of the most intensive fighting between Russia and Ukraine this year. While both sides reportedly suffered significant casualties fighting for Artyomovsk, Kiev lost some of its most experienced troops, Politico said. US officials have suggested that Ukraine should pull out of the city, which President Vladimir Zelensky declared a fortress. With the advice unheeded, America is now urging Ukrainian troops to conserve artillery munitions, the report explained. Ukraine is likely to use the units formed with Western help in a rapid attempt to “puncture” the front. Taking into account the current number of reserves, problems with logistics, and other challenges that will surely surface after the start of the counteroffensive, Kiev’s only realistic option is to launch an attack from a specific and previously unannounced direction.
Possible locations include Kherson, the Lugansk People’s Republic, or Zaporozhye. As a backup option, the AFU may consider attacking villages in the Kursk, Bryansk, and Belgorod regions, which are internationally recognised as part of Russia. However, the main challenge for Ukraine is that its first major strike – or even attempts to accumulate forces – may give the game away, and thus kibosh the whole plan.
The US has been stressing that it was up to Zelensky and the Ukrainian leadership to decide how exactly they would conduct a military operation. But senior American generals hosted Ukrainian officials in Wiesbaden, Germany to help them with wargaming the upcoming operation, Politico's report noted. There has also been an effort to train Ukrainian troops in NATO tactics to replenish battlefield losses. According to the outlet, Kiev had yet to settle on a strategy for its counteroffensive. The American military and intelligence officials are quite openly discussing in the press where the Armed Forces should be thrown. In the top directions for the offensive - Crimea, Melitopol , Mariupol.
- One scenario involving a push across the Dnieper River near the city of Kherson is “not realistic,” US officials believe, since Ukraine does not have the manpower for an amphibious operation of that kind.
- The second scenario would require advancing from the north in an attempt to cut off Russian troops from Crimea. As for Crimea, retired General Ben Hodges is very excited, who still cannot forget how, when he was commander of the allied land army, the peninsula elegantly sailed to Russia , and NATO intelligence missed this incident. His idea is that the Vesushniks cross the Dnieper, capture the entire Kherson region and fire at the Crimea with Haimars, then the Black Sea Fleet and the Saki airfield will be under threat. Many people see this plan as unrealistic: it is hard to imagine that the Ukrainians will be able to successfully cross the Dnieper under the fire of our artillery. However, intelligence on the Crimea and the work of its air defense is being collected very diligently - this is exactly what the American Reaper drone, which drowned in the Black Sea, was doing.
- The third direction is the coast of the Sea of Azov . Or Berdyansk through Melitopol, or Mariupol through Volnovakha . Moreover, the attack on Mariupol will be at the same time a move in the information war - it was here that the most stubborn local fighters stuck out at Azovstal. From the coast of the Sea of Azov, it was planned to bombard the Crimean bridge with HIMARS in an attempt to isolate the peninsula in this way.
Both options involve cutting off the supply lines for Russian troops and blocking the "corridor to the Crimea." Some analysts believe that the Ukrainian army will have enough strength to strike in two directions at once - both to the south and towards the Sea of Azov.
Perhaps there are other alleged directions of impact, they just do not shine in the media yet. Denis Pushilin , acting head of the DPR, said that the Ukrainians are accumulating troops in Chasov Yar near Artemivsk. It turns out that the Armed Forces of Ukraine can organize their coveted counteroffensive there as well.
The backbone of the strike force should be the "Guards of the offensive" - eight brigades of volunteers and veterans with combat experience. Among them are those who were trained abroad - there are about 20 thousand of them. Most went through accelerated programs. According to the Financial Times , Ukrainians were trained in the UK for five weeks. For the British, a similar course is three and a half months.
Kiev is preparing an offensive focused on Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia to cut off land communications with Russian troops from Crimea, according to the German newspaper Bild 21 March 2023, citing an unnamed NATO official. According to the interlocutor of the publication, "Russia rightly believes that the main Ukrainian offensive will take place in the "Luhansk and Zaporizhia regions." The representative of the alliance claims that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will try to "destroy the land bridge to Crimea ".
Bild quoted a “leading” NATO official as stating that the alliance’s analysts expect the conflict to reach a climax in the spring and summer. The official expressed confidence that heavy weaponry being delivered to Ukraine will be brought to bear in several counteroffensives as early as May. “The coming six months will be a key period in the war not only for Ukraine, but also for the allies,” the unnamed source predicted.
The official is confident that Kyiv will use Western weapons in May. As the journalists clarified, now the countries of the alliance have delivered about 500 tanks and armored personnel carriers. The American newspaper Politico also wrote that the offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will begin by May.
The official claimed that Ukraine is likely to mount counter-offensives in other regions as well, which will either be genuine or merely serve as distractions to preoccupy the Russian military. According to the Bild report, NATO is not ruling out a scenario in which Ukraine would attempt to retake Crimea, which joined Russia in 2014 following a referendum. “Kiev has the right to recapture all Ukrainian territory,” the official insisted.
The conceptual problem of the offensive is the lack of surprise. AFU units are awaited from all directions – from Artemovsk to Kherson, so it is extremely difficult to surprise Russian forces in such a situation. Moreover, the movements of the Ukrainian army are well monitored, and it is almost impossible to accumulate a group of 20,000-150,000 troops unnoticed in such conditions. If they abandon massing their soldiers, and spread the forces across the front, all the advantages of large numbers are lost.
An additional difficulty is time. Delaying an offensive means not only guaranteeing the loss of Artemovsk/Bakhmut, which is being cleared at the rate of two or three blocks every 24 hours, but also disrupting the plans of foreign partners and nullifying all the financial and military aid provided so far. Moreover, every day that the AFU's offensive is delayed is an extra day for the Russian army to prepare and reinforce.
Ukrainian troops will have to use long-range artillery rocket systems, including the US-supplied M142 HIMARS MLRS. Since the start of Moscow’s offensive, Kiev has used these systems only from deep within its own territory. However, to achieve momentum and penetrate the defense line, the systems will have to be moved closer to the front.
The current number of HIMARS rocket launchers (about 35 units) would not be enough for a counteroffensive along the entire front line, which stretches for 1,000km. The systems will probably be concentrated in just one or two directions, but this makes them easier to detect and destroy. Moreover, Ukraine only had a finite supply of missiles for most of its Western weapons systems, like the HIMARS, which means the manner in which they can be used is limited. These systems have never been tested in high-intensity conflicts.
Considering the risk of detection in areas with concentrated equipment, and Ukraine’s fear of losing reserves, as in Artemovsk (Bakhmut), the AFU will likely prepare its most important military formations from 12 to 36 hours before the main strike. In the present conditions, it is nearly impossible to amass enough fuel and ammunition. Not to mention the difficulties in trying to position people secretly. Russia has already used Lancet drones to hit German Gepard anti-aircraft guns and Soviet S-300 missile systems close to the front line. As soon as Ukraine’s previously hidden equipment was moved closer to the front line, it became easier to destroy.
The routes used for transporting Ukrainian military equipment and the places where it is positioned are under Russian surveillance. If the AFU loses significant amounts of fuel – or transport equipment or engineering units – in the first two or three days, it will have to adjust the counteroffensive’s strategy on the go or implement a backup plan (if it has one). Moreover, Ukraine has no means of transferring reserves by air or conducting amphibious warfare. Its supply and logistics fully depend on roads and railways. In such conditions, the destruction of a bridge or a train line on an important supply route may lead to a disaster at the front.
To successfully carry out a major counteroffensive, the AFU may not employ hi-tech equipment (like Bayraktar drones or M142 HIMARS systems) and instead rely on brute force: artillery, tanks, large numbers of infantry, and enormous amounts of cartridges, missiles, and shells. However, if something goes wrong, it will be difficult for Kiev to quickly replenish its ammunition. Ukraine’s troops are almost entirely dependent on foreign military aid, including critical weaponry like mortar shells, 122mm, 152mm, and 155mm artillery munitions, anti-tank systems, and cartridges for small arms. We can be certain that its General Staff understands this and the counteroffensive will take these restrictions into account. It’s also clear that the AFU lacks the power to break through a three to five line defensive front.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba did not know what results the counter-offensive will bring - if it fails, then Kyiv will try to organize another one. He made the relevant statement in an interview with the newspaper Bild , which was published on 10 May 2923. "Don't consider this counteroffensive as the last one, because we don't know what will come of it," Kuleba said. According to him, if it turns out to be unsuccessful, "it means that we must prepare for the next counteroffensive." The head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry once again demanded from Berlin an increase in military assistance. "To win a war, you need weapons, weapons and more weapons. Germany has enough of them, a lot depends on Germany," he added. "Also, do not underestimate the power of German diplomacy."
The timing of the counter-offensive of Ukrainian troops in the Zaporozhye region could begin in May, Vladimir Rogov, head of the We Are Together with Russia movement, told RIA Novosti. “The timing of their offensive is being shifted. It rains every day in our region, the movement of military equipment across the fields in such conditions is extremely difficult." Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal said in early April that the counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine could begin in the summer. He later said that it would take place "in the near future." The American media, in turn, wrote that the Ukrainian offensive was allegedly scheduled for April 30th. As noted by experts interviewed by RIA Novosti, the contradictory statements of Kyiv and Washington cannot be trusted: this may be part of a disinformation campaign.
If the Ukrainian counteroffensive fails to live up to expectations in the West, critics may be emboldened in the US and elsewhere, questioning the feasibility of further military support. Western governments could eventually decide to force Kiev to accept a negotiated settlement. On 26 April 2023, President Zelensky’s aide, Mikhail Podoliak, insisted that Ukraine still needed more weaponry and equipment, contradicting the US commander of NATO forces in Europe, General Christopher Cavoli, who claimed before the House Armed Services Committee that Kiev’s backers had already delivered 98% of the combat vehicles promised to Ukraine.
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