Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive has moved more slowly than many of the country’s allies and supporters had hoped. The Ukrainian military has proved remarkably adept at rapidly incorporating new capabilities and technologies into its operations, fighting bravely and for the most part effectively against an enemy with superior numbers, little regard for its own losses, and no regard for the laws of war. Even so, progress has been gradual, and every piece of liberated territory has come at an immense cost. Only after three months of grueling combat has Ukraine started to make more significant progress, penetrating some of Russia’s entrenched defensive lines in the country’s southeast and reclaiming territory in the provinces of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk.
The West will need to recalibrate its expectations to match reality, which is that this is a war of attrition.
Some analysts have attributed the counteroffensive’s slow pace to the challenges of successfully executing joint military maneuvers or coordinating artillery, infantry, and airpower. Others have questioned whether the training the United States and NATO have provided—focused on conducting fast offensive operations rather than wearing the Russian military down through attrition—was well suited to the type of enemy and war the Ukrainians are fighting. Still others have argued that Kyiv’s Western allies have been too slow to provide weapons and equipment, which delayed the Ukrainian counteroffensive and allowed Russia to fortify its positions and mine large swaths of contested territory. Finally, the Ukrainian military is not a NATO-style force, and the armed forces’ legacy and doctrine remains, in part, beholden to the Soviet military when it comes to the way it organizes, mobilizes, and sustains itself. Although this is not necessarily a weakness, it does require that Ukraine’s Western allies reconsider what types of weapons, equipment, and training would enable Ukraine to fight the way it fights best.
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