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September 04, 2023

Perseverance and Adaptation: Ukraine’s Counteroffensive at Three Months

By Michael Kofman and Rob Lee

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks.

On June 4, Ukraine launched its long-awaited offensive. The operation has proven to be a test of Ukrainian determination and adaptation. Despite stiff resistance, Ukrainian forces have made steady gains in a set-piece battle against a heavily entrenched force. Ukraine’s main effort is a push from Orikhiv, with the goal of driving south past Tokmak and ideally reaching Melitopol. If successful, this would sever Russian lines along the Black Sea coast and endanger supply routes from Crimea. The second is at Velika Novosilka, a secondary offensive operation likely aimed at Berdyansk, also along the coast. The third is a supporting offensive along the flanks of Bakhmut further to the north. Ukraine has made gains here, pinning several Russian airborne units. The offensive is gaining momentum, and much remains undecided, but three months in offers an opportunity to take stock of the operation thus far.

Western support thus far has been sufficient to avert a Ukrainian defeat, and arguably has imposed a strategic defeat on Russia, but not enough to ensure a Ukrainian victory.

This has become a war of tree lines, with shifts in the line often counted in hundreds of meters. Artillery fire and drones dominate the battlefield, as small groups of infantry advance through dense minefields, field by field, tree line by tree line. Progress has been fitful and slower than expected, as acknowledged by President Volodymyr Zelensky and now former Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov. However, Ukraine’s recent gains illustrate that it has worn down Russian defenses over time, leveraging an advantage in fires and long-range precision weapons to steadily press Russian forces back from their defensive positions. That said, Ukraine will need to both break through Russian lines and exploit that success to reach its objectives. Much could be decided in the coming weeks.

Read the full article from War on the Rocks.

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