For two days, Ukrainian troops stormed the Russian front. It’s not the big offensive expected. But the result of these probings sheds some light on the chances of Kiev’s success.
In Offensive usually does not begin with a singular act like a rocket launch, so the question of when “the” offensive started is somewhat pointless. The Kiev Summer Offensive began long ago with attacks on Russian military infrastructure. The intensified ground fighting since the weekend has now ushered in a new phase, but they don’t mark the beginning of a large-scale combat situation with 100,000 soldiers like a bang.
But the skirmishes are far more than meaningless skirmishes. The fighting flared up over a distance of more than 100 kilometers and on the second day larger numbers of troops were brought into the fight from Ukraine. The phase began with individual advances at company level, which the Russians were quickly able to repel. But as soon as the situation seemed under control, the Ukrainians stepped up and attacked with stronger units. About five battalions are said to have been deployed in the advance around the village of Novodonets’ke alone.
Limited local achievements
The aim of the operations is to find weak spots in the Russian defenses and break into the Russian lines here. At the moment it is far too early to speak of success or failure. Some of the Ukrainian advances were repelled, in other places they were able to push back the Russians. It is already clear that surprising breakthroughs will not come easily. The Russians held their lines, even if they had to withdraw some of them. The battles are also costly, measured by the fact that these are only stronger probings. The Russian side is able to show larger amounts of destroyed Ukrainian large-scale equipment.
The fiercest fighting raged around the place Novodonets’ke – the situation in the place is at least unclear. At times, the Ukrainian forces are said to have controlled the village. At the time of this writing, the Russians seem to have pushed them out again. In addition to the attack on Novodonets’ke, another advance was scheduled further west. The operations aim to cut off Russian positions in between, south of Velyka Novosilka, which is controlled by Ukraine. This would clear the way to a strategically important trunk road (TO518). It leads to Mariupol.
This axis is an attractive target for Kiev. Here the Russian defense system is weaker than further west or even in the Donbass. A breakthrough could cut off Russian troops in the west, plus the psychological factor of liberating Mariupol. But that would be a later operation in the main axis of the summer offensive. At the moment it is only a matter of gaining a better base for later operations with the possible capture of the Russian front nose south of Welyka Novosilka.
Quickly changing positions
In addition to fighting Novodonets’ke, the Ukrainians had another success north of Bakhmut. In the last few weeks, the Ukrainians have been held up along a water reservoir there, and now they are said to have taken at least parts of the village of Berkhivka. The aim here is to reach the M03 trunk road and thus come a little closer to trying to encompass Bachmut. Here, too, the Russians claim to have pushed Kiev’s soldiers out of town again. Despite the Ukrainian advances, the Russians continued their efforts in the town of Mar’inka near Donetsk. But these are just snapshots, the fighting can continue at any time.
At the moment it is difficult to classify the reports from the fighting. In addition to the general effect that warring factions rarely tell the unvarnished truth, other factors come into play. Approximately the time, an assessment that is absolutely correct at the time of its creation, can be completely outdated a few hours later in the case of a mobile situation at the time of its reception. And retreat does not mean defeat. The Ukrainians use their armored troops to force an incursion, after which they withdraw the heavy equipment from the direct front line. This is normal practice in order not to expose the valuable tanks and armored personnel carriers and is not a sign of failure.
Dam blasting dominates
Tuesday’s ground fighting will be dominated by the destruction of Nowa Kachowka’s dam. Both sides blame each other and both have a motive. With the blast, Russia could strengthen its frontline, because the flooding makes it much more difficult for Ukrainian troops to cross the Dnieper, and supplying them across the flooded zone seems impossible.
However, this is not a permanent flood, the dammed water that is now inundating the zone will flow into the nearby sea. At the moment, the flood is mainly submerging the low-lying Russian position system. In the long run, the water for the Russian-annexed Crimea and the occupied Ukrainian areas will be scarce, the supply of the Crimea was guaranteed by the dam.
It is also conceivable that the damaged dam burst due to the water pressure alone. However, since local residents report a heavy explosion, this explanation is unlikely.
Should Russia have blown up the dam, that would also be a threatening escalation for Kiev militarily. Everyone is aware that Russian troops and Crimea depend on Putin’s Crimean Bridge for supplies, and destroying it would be a major blow to Russian logistics. Less well known is the fact that the Dnieper River bisects all of Ukraine and there are few crossings across the river. Should Russia begin to systematically attack these bridges and dams, it would be a humanitarian catastrophe, but it would also hit Ukrainian logistics hard.
No use of the strategic reserve
In the ground fighting, the Ukrainian armed forces used mechanized troops with western equipment. However, it is unlikely that the best material, i.e. Leopard 2 main battle tanks and Bradley and Marder armored personnel carriers, were sent to the front. Even if the Russians state without any evidence that they shot several leopards. In fact, some of the French AMX 10 light wheeled tanks appear to have been damaged. These battles are not Kiev’s big hit, but these ground battles still have meaning. Both sides will study the battles, try to understand the opponent’s tactics and prepare better. This learning progress cannot be judged from the outside.
The Russians have so far relied on an elastic defense. With this tactic, a limited retreat is followed by an early counterattack. The challenge for the Ukrainian troops is not so much the first attack as trying not to lose what they have achieved.
Importance of minor fights
Militarily and psychologically, successes on the ground are significant. If Ukraine manages to capture one or two of the fortified Russian front bulges permanently, that will be a clear success. But if the Russians can essentially push the Ukrainians back to their starting positions, an equally clear failure for Kiev. A problem for Kiev’s forthcoming operation is now looming: those who wish to advance in this war will be forced to use their best mechanized troops, and casualties of tanks and armored personnel carriers will inevitably occur. The defender in his position system, on the other hand, does not have to bring armored forces directly to the front, at least initially. It also showed how difficult it would be to advance across the country and in small towns if the enemy’s artillery hadn’t been knocked down beforehand and he could deploy his air forces along the front.
Without real success, Kiev cannot long continue the tactics of such powerful probing attacks in this form.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.