- BBC News World
“Plans love silence. There will be no announcement of the start.”
As the Ukrainian Defense Ministry has made clear, Kyiv has no interest in announcing or hinting how or when it will carry out its long-awaited counter-offensive to try to retake territory conquered by Russia in the last 16 months.
In fact, this Wednesday Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, dismissed the statements of Russian officials who said that the counteroffensive had already begun.
“All this is not true. When all this starts, our military will decide,” Danilov told the agency in an interview. “When we start the counteroffensive, everyone will know it, they will see it.”
In any case, the latest movements of the Ukrainian army, which has advanced in the Bakhmut area and which, as reported by the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, has launched operations at up to five different points on the frontThey seem to show that something is afoot.
In recent days, Ukrainian troops have launched offensives on the border between the Zaporizhia and Donestk regions, near the cities of Velika Novosilka and Vugledar. Although it cannot be considered a “major counteroffensive”, it is a significant event.
According to the Russian military bloggers themselves, very active on social networks such as Telegram and who follow the progress of the war in detail, the Ukrainian army managed to advance its positions in this area.
The Institute for the Study of War confirmed that the Ukrainians advanced about three kilometers in one night on this front, which, considering that the area is mined, is a significant distance.
How the attack on the Nova Kakhovka dam has affected
Analysts say that it is more than likely that the explosion of the Nova Kakhovka dam last Tuesday, of which Kyiv and Moscow accuse each other and which has forced the evacuation of thousands of people in the last 60 kilometers of the Dnieper River, has in any way affected Ukraine’s plans.
Although we don’t know if Kyiv planned to focus its efforts on the Kherson region, the area most affected by the waters, to recapture the territory invaded by Russia, “the damage to the dam, whoever did it, now makes that option a much more problematic,” analyzes BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner.
As the adviser to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Yuri Sak, told the BBC, “what is happening (with the dam) is Russia’s desperate attempt to somehow influence our plans, our offensive. They have panicked. , they are desperate, and they are committing atrocities”.
four key points
What other options could Ukraine be considering?
With the Kherson area ruled out, for the moment at least, the Ukrainian strategy could try to move in four possible directions, according to Oleh Chernysh, a correspondent for the BBC’s Ukrainian service specializing in military analysis:
1. On the Zaporizhia front, in the direction of the cities of Tokmak and Melitopol, the largest towns in the Russian-occupied part of this region.
“They are very well protected by the Russian army, but if the Ukrainian troops managed to free them and advance to the Azov Sea, they would cut the Russian defenses in half,” Chernysh explains.
2. From the cities of Vugledar and Volnovaja to try to reach Mariupol
Mariupol is a large port city on the Azov Sea, captured by Russia a year ago, and where the terrible siege of the Azovstal steel works was fought. The capture of Mariupol allowed the Russian army to link the occupied areas of Donbas with Kherson and the Crimean peninsula, thus creating a corridor.
Recapturing Mariupol would not only have enormous symbolic value but would clearly be strategic, splitting the Russian front and isolating Crimea.
Russian troops and mercenaries from the Wagner Group claimed to have captured this city in the Donetsk region a few weeks ago.
The town has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent months and has been fought inch by inch, becoming the longest and bloodiest battle of this war. Although it does not have a special strategic value, it does have symbolic importance, both for the Russians and for the Ukrainians.
In recent days, the Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister, Hanna Maliar, has assured on social networks that “despite the tough resistance and the enemy’s attempts to hold their positions, our military units have advanced in various directions during the combat ” in the zone.
According to Maliar, Ukrainian troops recaptured small towns a few kilometers from Bakhmut, both on its northeast and southwest flanks, with the aim of enclosing Russian soldiers.
President Volodymir Zelensky himself has thanked the Ukrainian military for sending “the news we were waiting for.”
“If the Ukrainian army succeeds in encircling the Russians at Bakhmut, it will be a very heavy blow for Moscow,” says Oleh Chernysh.
4. In the north of the Luhansk regionpor la zona de Svátove-Kreminná.
This is a sparsely populated area and possibly the worst defended by the Russian army. If Ukraine manages to liberate these two cities, it could, according to analysts, destroy the Russian defense in the area.
At the moment it is unknown which of these routes could be preferred by the Ukrainian commanders, which forces, according to Chernysh, to constantly move the troops trying to guess where the next offensive will be.
Although the breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam has limited the Ukrainian options to counterattack on the western flank, the nueva situation has also created new possibilities for Kyivaccording to the correspondent of the Russian service of the BBC, Ilya Abisev.
For starters, you could try taking the Cape Kinburn, a narrow peninsula between the Black Sea and the Dnieper Bay, as well as the islands and alluvial plains of the delta of this important river. According to Abisev, the Russian army would find it “extremely difficult” to defend these territories due to supply problems caused by the flooding.
In addition, the blowing up of the dam means that the Kajovka reservoir is going to disappear. The waters will drop to the normal level of a river, so it will be much easier to cross a river than a swamp that in some points got to have 25 kilometers of width.
Therefore, the front that the Russian army will now have to defend has been extended in this area by about 200 kilometers, those that go from the dam to the city of Vasilivka, in the Zaporizhia region.
It is not clear, either, what strategy the Ukrainian General Staff could use in its counteroffensive, although, for the military analyst Michael Clarke, former director of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), an important think tank British defense, it is to be expected that diversionary operations will take place.
The offensive, he assured BBC Radio 4, could be carried out in three ways:
1. There is a possibility that, after a series of distracting activities, the bulk of the Ukrainian forces, with all their weight, move in one direction. According to Clarke, it will be interesting to see what happens in this case in southern Zaporizhia, where they could move towards Melitopol.
2. Another option would be that they tried push by different sites. “It’s as if you pushed on half a dozen doors and where it opened the easiest, then you concentrated the bulk of your forces to move forward,” he explained on the BBC’s Today programme.
3. The third possibility would be that they tried a series of small offensives that later merged into something bigger.
Although the movements, according to Clarke, began a couple of weeks ago, with different drone attacks from both sides to probe the rear, so far no major offensive has been seen.
When it happens, given Ukrainian capabilities, Clarke calculates that Kyiv will be able to try to advance on a front no more than 50 kilometers wide. “But considering that the front of the war is 1,000 kilometers, which 50 kilometers will they choose?” he wonders. “Until next week or so we won’t know how it plays out.”
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