In recent days, Ukrainian armored vehicles have been observed operating beyond several of the defensive obstacles that Russian forces set up last winter in the occupied southern regions of the country. While the development does not necessarily herald an imminent breakthrough, it does offer the prospect that, after months spent inching their way through minefields under heavy artillery fire, Ukraine’s counteroffensive efforts have been more successful than is often appreciated.
“Positive indicators have definitely improved my morale over the past two weeks,” George Barros of the Institute for the Study of War told Newsweek. “But it’s still a tough fight.”
Those positive indicators include confirmed footage of German-made Marder and American-made Stryker infantry fighting vehicles “operating beyond the main field fortifications near the Robotyne-Verbovne line. That’s past the tank ditch, the dragon’s teeth, and the most prepared trench line,” Barros noted.
While many observers both in Ukraine and abroad entered the summer expecting to see Kyiv’s forces make territorial advances similar to those it achieved last year in Kharkiv and Kherson regions, Western delays in the provision of heavy weaponry combined with fierce fighting in the east around Bakhmut this past winter allowed Russian forces to construct a series of obstacles along the front lines of its “land bridge” in the south.
In order to make sustainable progress, Ukraine must now balance its operational plans so as to degrade Russian forces while still conserving its own combat power for use in a war that most analysts expect will continue for years.
“There are ways to win wars when not controlling the territory, and there are ways to lose wars while controlling the territory,” Barros explained. “The Ukrainians tactically are not fighting just to liberate square miles, but to maintain the initiative so as to prevent the Russians from regrouping and fortifying their defensive positions yet again.”
As such, the most important metric for Ukrainian success over the coming months will not be the number of occupied towns taken back, but the number of weeks that they can continue to exert pressure on Russian lines in the hope that, eventually, the balance of forces enables them to break through and then exploit any breach to the maximum possible extent.
“If by December 31 the Ukrainians are able to continue fighting, depriving the Russians of culminating the counteroffensive, that’s a success,” Barros said. “It will only be a failure if they attempt to go too quickly and thereby lose the initiative.”
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