Ukraine is planning to put Russia on the back foot by punching a hole in the army’s defence – a strategy labelled “very high risk”. Under the plan, Kyiv will deploy roughly 35,000 soldiers supported by Western battle tanks, targeting 140,000 enemy troops over a 950km frontline.
The stakes are enormous in this initial phase of Ukraine’s spring counter-offensive, which follows President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion over 14 months ago, reports the Financial Times.
The outcome will have a huge impact on the battlefield and will decide Ukraine’s bargaining stance with Moscow in settling the conflict, as President Volodymyr Zelensky has emphasised the importance of being strong on the battlefield in order to be strong in discussions.
Earlier this year, Ukraine’s leader said: “To be strong in any talks, Ukraine must be strong on the battlefield.
“Let’s de-occupy the maximum [amount of territory] we can.”
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Military authorities and analysts, however, warn the battle will be difficult. Breaching operations are dangerous and necessitate thorough coordination among all military forces, including artillery, tanks, intelligence and engineers.
Former British Army officer, Nick Gunnell told the Financial Times: “It takes a giant orchestration of combined arms, everyone has to play a role. It’s very high risk.”
Furthermore, Ukraine lacks decisive air cover to repel Russian fighter jets attempting to breach Russian defences. Requests from the West for modern fighter jets such as US F-16s have gone unanswered, leaving Ukraine exposed.
Experts point out that successful ground offensives without air dominance are uncommon, noting Israel’s attack on Egyptian defences during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 as one example.
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The lack of air cover could make Ukraine’s counter-offensive difficult.
Meanwhile, the anticipation of the impending counter-offensive is palpable, with Ukraine’s defence ministry tweeting a video of soldiers practising with British weapons, captioned “For What? You’ll see. #SpringIsComing.”
It comes as the battle for Bakhmut is heating up again, analysts and Russian officials said on Friday, as Ukrainian defenders of the devastated city resisted a coordinated three-pronged attack by the Kremlin’s forces and efforts to stop supplies from reaching them.
“Russia has re-energized its assault” on Bakhmut, the UK Ministry of Defence said of recent developments in the eastern Ukraine city, which for eight and a half months has been the stage for the war’s longest and bloodiest fight.
“The Ukrainian defence still holds the western districts of the town but has been subjected to particularly intense Russian artillery fire over the previous 48 hours,” the ministry’s assessment said.
Until recently, a notorious private Russian military contractor, the Wagner Group, spearheaded the campaign to take Bakhmut, making slow, grinding progress at the cost of thousands of lives on both sides. Now, regular Russian units have joined the thrust.
Military analysts have said that seizing Bakhmut would have public relations and tactical military value for Moscow though it would be unlikely to prove decisive in the war’s outcome.
The Russian Defense Ministry also noted the stepped-up fighting in western parts of the city Friday.
“Wagner assault detachments are engaged in high-intensity combat operations to capture areas of western Bakhmut with airborne forces supporting on the flanks,” the ministry said in a statement.
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