Ukrainian counteroffensive 2023 - Europe Superpower

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Ukrainian counteroffensive 2023

Russias War in Ukraine 2022
2.6 Phase 6: Ukrainian counteroffensive spring 2023

As for the long announced Ukrainian spring offensive, the US didn‘t expect much of it in February 2023. Thus, according to a leaked Pentagon document, the Ukrainians were not able to achieve greater gains. The “top secret” document warned of significant “force generation and sustainment shortfalls”, and the likelihood that such an operation would result in only “modest territorial gains.” It indicated that the Ukrainians planned to reclaim contested areas in the east and push south to sever Russia’s land bridge to Crimea, which Russia used as a supply route for its forces inside Ukraine. But the potency of entrenched Russian defenses and “enduring Ukrainian deficiencies in training and munitions supplies probably will strain progress and exacerbate casualties during the offensive”, the document said. Two months later the situation seemed not to have changed considerably. Thus, according to an article of the Washington Post of April 10 a classified assessment by the National Intelligence Council found that Ukraine was unlikely to recapture as much territory as it did in fall 2022 in its breakthroughs in the east and south (75).

During spring the Russians continued building defenses along the front line and deep within occupied territory: trenches,
„dragon‘s teeth“ and also minefields. Particularly well protected was the city of Melitopol, an important railway junction for supplying Russian troops in southern Ukraine and also those in annexed Crimea (80). But according to Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at RAND Corporation who focuses on Russian defense issues, the Russian defensive network in Ukraine was guarded by „exhausted or maltreated/ inadequately trained personnel“. „Some of these units are heavily attrited as a result of the winter offensive“. (87).
The Ukrainians were building up twelve new brigades, nine of them trained and equipped by NATO countries, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in April 2023: „More than 98 percent of the combat vehicles promised to Ukraine have already been delivered. That means over 1,550 armoured vehicles, 230 tanks and other equipment, including vast amounts of ammunition. In total we have trained and equipped more than nine new Ukrainian armoured brigades [...]“ (81). Furthermore, the UK delivered, according to CNN and confirmed by UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, multiple “Storm Shadow” long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine which are launched from the air and have a firing range of 250 kilometers (82).

In May Ukrainian attacks on Russian infrastructure, including drone attacks on oil refineries and train sabotage, multiplied. Experts considered them as part of Ukraine’s preparations for the expected spring offensive, as the majority appeared to target Russian army supply chains in border regions and in annexed Crimea (77).

Meanwhile Wagner chief Prigozhin in Bakhmut was angry as he didn‘t get enough support from the Russian Ministry of Defense and even announced that Wagner would withdraw from Bakhmut on May 10 unless Wagner received the necessary supplies. This and the overall slow-down in the pace of Russian offensive operations elsewhere in Ukraine suggested that conventional Russian forces were shifting focus to prepare for the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive (78). On 12 May Prigozhin, who was still in the town, claimed that Russian Defense Ministry troops surrendered their positions on the outskirts of Bakhmut allowing Ukraine’s Armed Forces to use again a road leading to its army’s rear position and to occupy important tactical heights. The „Defense Ministry troops simply fled from our flanks”. Furthermore, „[t]here are about 20 houses left to take, and Bakhmut would be taken completely. But the occupation of Bakhmut gives nothing to the Russian Federation, because the flanks are crumbling, the front is collapsing.“ (79) But on 20 May he declared the capture of the town: „20 мая 2023 года, 20.05.2023, сегодня в 12 часов, полностью был взят Бахмут“, („Bakhmut was completely taken“), and that the Wagner group would hand it over to the military on 25 May (83). Meanwhile Ukraine said that fightings there continued and that its forces still controlled an area in the west of the town. Furthermore, „[t]he struggle for dominant heights continues on the flanks - the north and south of the suburbs,“ writes for example Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar on 22 May (84).

In May the Russians started new air attacks: According to the British Defense Ministry, in May they attacked Ukraine with more than 300 Shahid drones, probably with the intention of forcing Ukraine to use up its modern and expensive anti-aircraft missiles. However, these attacks had little success as Ukraine  destroyed at least 90% of the drones with older and cheap anti-aircraft weapons (88). The Russian Air Force also repeatedly used Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles, fired from Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers over the Caspian Sea. The Kyiv Post, which referred to the Ukrainian Air Force, counted 114 of these cruise missiles in May alone, of which Ukraine destroyed 106. In addition, the Russians fired, among others, 29 Kalibr cruise missiles, 7 Kinzhal missiles and 16 Iskander missiles, of which Ukraine destroyed 100% (89).
What is striking about these attacks is the Russian concentration on Kiev, rather than on areas close to the front lines where the counter-offensive that has been announced for months could take place. According to ISW, this focus on Kiev even limited Russian prospects to hampering the Ukrainian counteroffensive, as the munitions would be used for attacks on Kiev rather than for military infrastructure and facilities: “Russian allocation of air munitions to targeting Kiev rather than prioritizing infrastructure or military installations continue to limit the ability of this limited Russian air campaign to significantly reduce Ukraine's offensive capabilities for the forthcoming counteroffensive” (90).

On May 22 US-Präsident Biden signaled, according to his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, his approval for the F-16 to be handed over to Ukraine: „we’ve reached a moment where it is time to look down the road and to say, “What is Ukraine going to need as part of a future force to be able to deter and defend against Russian aggression as we go forward?” F-16 fourth-generation fighter aircraft are part of that mix. The obvious first step there is to do the training and then to work with allies and partners and the Ukrainians to determine how to do the actual provision of planes as we move forward.“ (85). In the shorter term, Ukrainian officials said the F-16s were necessary for the country as Ukraine's ground-based air defenses were being depleted, and in the longer term, the planes are widely believed in the West to help deter Russian air force attacks on Ukraine (86).

During the first attacks of Ukrainian Armed Forces against Russian lines, on June 6 the Nova Kakhovka dam at the Dnipro river was probably blown up, as seismic data of Norsar, the Norwegian Seismic Array, show. The New York Times also quoted a senior Biden administration official who said that US spy satellites had detected an explosion at the dam just before its collapse (93). Although it was still not known who was responsible for the destruction of the dam, Jérôme Pellistrandi, a retired French army general and military analyst who talked to El País, thought that the explosion was a “serious setback for Ukrainian military interests.” Thus, before the dam was breached the Ukrainians would have to cross a river 500 meters to a kilometer wide if they wanted to attack the Russians on the southern side, in Kherson Oblast. Now there would be two to three kilometers to cross. “For the Russians, it is a huge tactical advantage. It would be very easy for their artillery to hit armored vehicles on pontoon bridges”, he said. “A diversionary attack towards Crimea could still be attempted, but this will now be very difficult” (94).  

At the beginning of June 2023 the Ukrainian counter-offensive began with attacks at at least three sectors of the front: in the
Bakhmut sector where they could make gains of between 200 meters and nearly two kilometers on the flanks of the city until June 8, in western Donetsk Oblast near the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border where they could make some tactical gains, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast where they could not make gains (91). As for the aim of the Ukrainians in the southern direction, it was to punch through the Russian lines, all the way to the Sea of Azov, because then all Russian troops west of that breach would be much more vulnerable and depend entirely on supply lines through the Crimean Peninsula. And Crimea itself would only be connected to Russia by the Kerch Bridge, that was alredy once briefly disabled by a truck bomb last October (95).

Milblogger Rybar tells on June 9, refering to a location south of Orikhiv and southeast of the city of Zaporizhzhia, an area where the Russian defensive lines were strong: „Вот уже более суток идут интенсивные бои на рубеже Работино — Вербовое. Штурмовые группы 65 омбр ВСУ с глубокой ночи пытаются прорвать оборону 291 полка ВС РФ. Украинские формирования сконцентрировали усилия конкретно на одном участке, посылая резервы и живую силу для захвата одного опорного пункта. Из-за этого бойцы ВС РФ отошли на запасные позиции. Однако после этого по противнику, который пытался закрепиться на взятых рубежах, отработала артиллерия и авиация. В итоге ВСУ отступили с большими потерями.“ - „For more than a day now, intense fighting has been going on at the Rabotino-Verbovoye line. Assault groups of the 65th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been trying to break through the defenses of the 291st regiment of the RF Armed Forces since late at night. Ukrainian formations concentrated their efforts specifically on one area, sending reserves and manpower to capture one strong point. Because of this, the fighters of the RF Armed Forces retreated to reserve positions. However, after that, artillery and aviation attacked the enemy, who was trying to gain a foothold on the lines taken. As a result, the Armed Forces of Ukraine retreated with heavy losses.“ (92)

In the same area the soldiers of the Ukrainian 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade started the counteroffensive on June 7 with the goal to reach the village of Robotyne nine miles away within 24 hours. But nothing went as planned:
„The Ukrainian troops had expected minefields but were blindsided by the density. The ground was carpeted with explosives, so many that some were buried in stacks. The soldiers had been trained to drive their Bradleys at a facility in Germany, on smooth terrain. But on the mushy soil of the Zaporizhzhia region, in the deafening noise of battle, they struggled to steer through the narrow lanes cleared of mines by advance units. The Russians, positioned on higher ground, immediately started firing antitank missiles. Some vehicles in the convoy were hit, forcing others behind them to veer off the path. Those, in turn, exploded on mines, snarling even more of the convoy. Russian helicopters and drones swooped in and attacked the pileup. Troops, some experiencing the shock of combat for the first time, pulled back to regroup — only to attack and retreat, again and again on successive days, with the same bloody results.“ (112)
On the fourth day the losses of American Bradleys, German Leopard tanks, mine-sweeping vehicles and soldier‘s lifes were already high. Thus, General Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top commander, decided that Ukrainian soldiers would go on foot in small groups of about 10 instead of trying to breach Russian defenses with a massed, mechanized attack and supporting artillery fire, as his American counterparts had advised.  

What was striking already right at the start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive in early June 2023, was the unusually active role played by the Russian air force over southern Ukraine: “The Russian Airforce has been unusually active over southern Ukraine, where the airspace is more permissive for Russia than in other parts of the country. However, it remains unclear whether tactical airstrikes have been effective,” wrote the British Ministry of Defense on June 10 (96). The ISW also cited Russian sources as early as June 8, stating that the Ukrainians did not have sufficient air defenses in the Orikhiv sector and that the Russians were being supported by a large number of helicopters. The ISW suspected that the reason for the lack of air defense systems near the front was that the ongoing Russian missile and drone attacks against Kiev and critical infrastructure had tied these systems away from the frontlines (97).

According to the assessments of the ISW, in the following days the Russian defenders in southern Ukraine continued their tactics so that „a first echelon of forces repels or slows attacking forces before a second echelon of forces counterattacks against any enemy breakthrough“ (98).
On June 21 Ukrainian president Zelensky admitted that the progress of the counteroffensive was „slower than desired“. As reason he mentioned that 200,000 sq km of Ukrainian territory had been mined by Russian forces (99). A Russian milblogger described the situation on June 21 this way:  
„Оборонительные сооружения «линии Суровикина» на всей протяжённости построены вдоль господствующих высот и хребтов. Оборона установлена на глубине 25-30 километров. Между оборонительными рубежами возведено несколько отдельных защитных зон. В зоне №1 ближе к фронту находится передовой рубеж обороны из нескольких десятков взводных и ротных опорных пунктов. На эти участки с огромным количеством ПТРК и средств наблюдения натыкались те украинские подразделения, которым удавалось прорваться через минные поля. Между передовым укрепрайоном и основным рубежом обороны — порядка 25 километров минных полей, противотанковых рвов и других сооружений, пробиться через которые практически невозможно. Единственным достижением наступления ВСУ в данный момент является продвижение в «серой зоне» — районе, который не влияет на боеспособность российских войск. При этом удары по наступающим украинским войскам артиллерия и авиация из глубины «линии Суровикина» наносят задолго до приближения основных сил ВСУ не только к передовому рубежу охраны, но и к минным полям.“ (100)
(„The defensive structures of the "Surovikin Line" along the entire length were built along the dominant heights and ridges. The defense is installed at a depth of 25-30 kilometers. Several separate defensive zones were erected between the defensive lines. In zone No. 1, closer to the front, there is a forward defense line of several dozen platoon and company strongholds. These areas with a huge number of anti-tank systems and surveillance equipment were stumbled upon by those Ukrainian units that managed to break through the minefields. Between the forward fortified area and the main defense line there are about 25 kilometers of minefields, anti-tank ditches and other structures, which are almost impossible to break through. The only achievement of the offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine at the moment is the advance in the "gray zone" - an area that does not affect the combat capability of the Russian troops. At the same time, artillery and aircraft strike the advancing Ukrainian troops from the depths of the “Surovikin Line” long before the main forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine approach not only the forward guard line, but also minefields.“) (100)

The recaptured village Neskuchne in south-eastern Ukraine is a good example to see the problems which slow down the counter-offensive. Thus, on June 9 about 70 Ukrainian troops from the 129th Territorial Defense Brigade attacked the village on foot, after it had been bombarded by artillery. Some weeks later an Ukrainian soldier told: “We had to liberate house after house,” though “[a]t the beginning of the counteroffensive, we thought there were no more than 20 of them.” Instead of the roughly 150 Russian soldiers from the 60th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade as well as a contingent of the Storm Z unit. The streets were mined, so they had to go through the gardens. The Russian artillery was permanenty firing as well as machine guns from within some of the houses. On the following day, the Ukrainians were reinforced with an additional 20 soldiers from a nearby tank brigade. But “[t]he Russians did not leave their positions until the last minute”, said another Ukrainian soldier. Only when they feared to be surrounded they retreated. On the third day of the battle three HIMARS-missiles hit and damaged the Russian headquarters in Neskuchne which was situated in a former school. Much of the battle centered on routing the Russians from there. As in some houses before, the Russians had carved holes in the walls from which they fired with their machine guns. So, only after using more artillery “did we manage finally to drive them out of the school” (101).

In July the Ukrainians changed their tactics: Thus, in the first two weeks of the couteroffensive the Ukrainians advanced into large Russian minefields under fire from artillery and helicopters, trying to deploy combined arms tactics (synchronized attacks by infantry, armor and artillery forces) as learned from the West. But the result was losses of weaponry mounting up to 20 percent, among them Western tanks and armored personnel carriers, as Bradleys and Leopard tanks. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians focus instead on wearing down the Russian forces with artillery and long-range missiles, reverting thus to a war of attrition, to tactics they are more familiar with (102). When attacking the Russian defensive lines, they did this with „hundreds of small-scale assault groups, often just eight to 10 soldiers, each tasked with attacking a single trench, tree line or house“, so that daily success in August was measured in yards rather than miles – house by house, village by village (107).
An important role seemed to play western-delivered precision missiles to destroy Russian counter-battery radar, as without them the Russians were unable to locate Ukrainian artillery, whereas the Ukrainians were able to locate and destroy the Russian guns with precision shells. Jack Watling, senior research fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, wrote of a systematic erosion of Russian artillery as a turning point (103). Besides this, using Storm Shadow and SCALP precision cruise missiles with a range of up to 250 km, which were supplied by the UK and France, Ukraine destroyed Russian command posts, ammunition depots and bridges behind Russian lines and thus reduced the supply of their troops at the frontlines  (104).
But despite of that systematic erosion of artillery and destruction of supply-lines and ammunition, at the frontlines they caused still problems. Thus, in September 2023 Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, commander of Ukraine's Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR), said in an interview, that „[c]urrently, all main instances of fighting are done on foot without using any materiel. This is linked to the high saturation of artillery systems on the forefront and also portable anti-tank weapons. […] Also, there's a high level of saturation with both anti-personnel and anti-tank minefields.“ (108) And while Ukraine would get some American ATACAMS with a range of 300 kilometers and armed with cluster bomblets to further reduce the supply of the frontline (110), Russia probably made a deal with North Korea to get further artillery rounds from there (109). In October U.S. White House officials said that American intelligence agencies tracked a shipment of 1.000 containers of military equipment and munitions from North Korea to Russia (111).

In December 2023 the counter-offensive had come to a halt. In a report from the frontlines at Verbove, a Russian milblogger described a typical situation of standstill:
„Вечером противник предпринял штурмовые действия на наши позиции, стрелковый бой был часа 3-4. В небе как в аэропорту Шереметьево, ночные птицы летали без перерыва и контролировали местность, а так же корректировали артиллерию. В ночное время, зашли наши штурмовые группы и подобрались практически вплотную к врагу, друг от друга 100-150 метров, стрельба не останавливается и идёт беспрерывное прочесывание местности. …“ („In the evening, the enemy launched an assault on our positions; the shooting battle lasted for 3-4 hours. In the sky night birds [drones] flew like at Sheremetyevo airport [airport in Moscow] without interruption and controlled the terrain, and also adjusted the artillery. At night, our assault groups came in and got almost close to the enemy, 100-150 meters apart, the shooting did not stop and the area was continuously combed ...“ (113).  
Three to four hors later he continued: „Интенсивность наката хохлов снизилась. Сейчас превалируют наши попытки штурмовать вражеские позиции. Каждый метр даётся очень тяжело ввиду разных условий: погодных, это грязь, ледяной дождь, снег, обледенение; обстрелы наших позиций вражеской артиллерией; заминированная врагом территория, наши машины для подвоза боеприпасов, эвакуации и провизии регулярно наезжают на мины; Но десантники хоть и выгрызают по небольшому кусочку территории, но движутся вперёд.“ („The intensity of the attack of the Ukrainians has decreased. Now our attempts to storm enemy positions prevail. Every meter is very difficult due to different conditions: weather conditions, mud, freezing rain, snow, icing; shelling of our positions by enemy artillery; territory mined by the enemy, our vehicles for transporting ammunition, evacuation and provisions regularly run into mines. But the paratroopers, although they are gnawing out a small piece of territory, are moving forward.“) (114)

In Kherson oblast the Ukrainian troops seized a bridgehead on the east bank of the Dnipro river hoping to advance far enough to get into striking range of the Russian supply route into Crimea. The heaviest fightings there took place at the village Krynki at about 30 kilometers from Kherson city. In December some Ukrainian soldiers and marines who took part in the river crossings spoke to journalists of the New York Times telling of waves of Ukrainian troops struck down on the river banks or in the water before reaching the other side. One of them called it a suicide mission. Another one told that the Russian units in the area and their long-range artillery had been heavily suppressed by Ukrainian drones. Thus, Russian troops were generally staying under cover during the day and moved only at night. But as a consequence Russia retaliated with devastating aerial bombardment, rocket strikes and a multitude of drones (115).  
About the same place a Russian milblogger wrote: „ситуация остаётся сложной, так как основную проблему создают не украинские морпехи, а дроны: на островах и на правом берегу Днепра работают пункты запуска БПЛА, непосредственно над самим н.п. постоянно находится несколько дронов разведчиков, отслеживающих малейшее передвижение в районе леса и населенного пункта. Операторы дронов находятся на прямой связи с артиллерийскими расчетами и имеют полномочия вызывать огонь по координатам без согласования с вышестоящими командирами, чем объясняется оперативность нанесения ударов.“ („the situation remains difficult, since the main problem is created not by Ukrainian marines, but by drones: there are UAV launch points operating on the islands and on the right bank of the Dnieper, directly above the settlement itself. There are always several reconnaissance drones monitoring the slightest movement in the area of the forest and populated area. Drone operators are in direct contact with artillery crews and have the authority to call fire on coordinates without coordination with higher commanders, which explains the speed of strikes.“) (116)

2.7. Phase 7: Russian initiative in the east, stalling Ukrainian counter-offensive
At the end of October 2023 Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny, admitted that the war was at a stalemate: “Just like in the first world war we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate”. It would take a massive technological leap to break the deadlock. “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.” (118)
Some weeks later the Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked President Biden’s push to pass tens of billions in new aid for Ukraine (117).
In December Russian forces made small territorial gains along Ukraine’s eastern front, especially at Avdeevka, a Ukrainian stronghold in the Donetsk region which they were slowly encircling. But Russia also advanced at Kupiansk, Bakhmut and Marinka (119).

Regarding Avdeevka, at the end of November Russian milbloggers wrote about the capture  of the Avdeevcan industrial zone: „Планомерно выдавливаем вражеские силы на всей линии авдеевского участка. ... В Промзоне происходит зачистка и овладение российскими бойцами территорий. Используем танки для уничтожения позиций врага в зданиях. Затем зачистку проводят штурмовые группы и разведка. Освобождение промзоны уже практически завершено.“ („We are systematically pushing out enemy forces along the entire line of the Avdeevsky sector. ... In the Industrial Zone, Russian fighters are clearing out and taking possession of the territories. We use tanks to destroy enemy positions in buildings. Then the cleanup is carried out by assault groups and reconnaissance. The liberation of the industrial zone is almost complete.“) (121). Another one wrote the following day about the same zone: „Её взятие лишает хохла на юго-востоке Авдеевки мощного рубежа обороны, находящегося на возвышенности. ... из Промки наши могут как поджимать Царскую Охоту, так и занимать леса рядом ... После обеспечения фланга здесь мы сможем начать штурм частного сектора чуть севернее, находящегося в низине.“ („Its capture deprives the Ukrainians in the southeast of Avdeevka of a powerful defense line located on a hill. ... from Promka we can advance to Tsarskaya Okhota and occupy the forests nearby... After securing the flank here, we will be able to begin an assault on the private sector a little to the north, located in the lowlands.“) (122)
On the Ukrainian side a commander told „Der Spiegel“ in December that the town could fall soon as the Russians had more firepower: „Sie haben zehnmal so viel Gerät wie wir und 20-, wenn nicht 30-mal so viele Geschosse“ („They have ten times as much equipment as we do and 20, if not 30, times as many grenades, missiles and shells“), whereas the Ukrainians were short of ammunition for mortars and guns. He also told about high casualties, that of the 100 soldiers his company once had, he could sometimes only send 15 into battle (120).
On December 10, George Barros, analyst on Russia and Ukraine at the ISW, wrote on X: „Since launching a major offensive on Avdiika on Oct 10, Russian forces: Gained ~11.1 sqkm, advanced 1.5-2 km on the northern flank, advanced 1.5 km on the southern flank, lost at least 221 vehicles as of Nov 10“ (123).

At the end of December, the Russian VKS launched the largest air strike to date on various cities in Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian Air Force, Tu-95MS bombers fired 90 air-launched Kh-101/Kh-555/Kh-55 cruise missiles, Tu-22M3 long-range bombers fired eight Kh-22/Kh-32 cruise missiles in the northern direction and central regions of Ukraine, five MiG-31K fighters five Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” aeroballistic missiles. But the hit rate was very low, especially with the ALCMs: the Ukrainians intercepted 87 of the 90 (124). As this was just a week after the shooting down of three Russian Su-34s over Kherson that supported the troops at the Dniepr (125) and as the Russians probably already had experience with the high rate of interception of ALCMs, the suspicion arises that the aim here was not to destroy specific targets, but rather to tie up the Ukrainian air defense in the cities and thus far from the front and/or to exhaust their ammunition – especially against the background of Western delivery fatigue. What is also noticeable here is the lack of use of the Su-57 “stealth” fighters, of which the Russians must now have around 15. With their use, they could have brought their bombs more safely to the target, similar to the U.S. F-117 during “Desert Storm”. Finally, it should be noted that none of the Kh-22/Kh-32 cruise missiles could be shot down.
At the beginning of January 2024, further Russian air strikes with drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles followed, which were launched by Tu-95MS, Ту-22М3 bombers and the MiG-31K, among others. Of these, Ukraine was able to destroy primarily the Shahed-136/131 and the Kh-101/Kh-555/Kh-55 (126).

Reacting to the Russian offensive, in January 2024 the Ukrainians began building their own „Surovikin line“ of trenches, tank traps and minefields, like that which the Russians had built against the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south. In Avdiivka, at that time the main offensive target for Russia, Ukraine positioned its main defensive line some ten miles back. Here, Ukraine utilised a series of natural barriers of lakes and rivers. The heaviest of the new defences was built around Chernihiv in the north to protect against a new attack on Kyiv. The capital itself bolstered its defensive fortifications in the north by 63 per cent. But a problem was that while stronger fortifications would slow down Russian troops, to reduce the number of Ukrainian troops needed to defend and mean fewer casualties,  would also diminish Kyiv’s ambition to retake its occupied territory (127).  
This decision to go to the defense was also motivated by the lack of delivery of Western arms and ammunition, while at the same time, Russia increased its own weapons production: Thus, since February 2022 it increased its tank production by 560 per cent. Production of infantry fighting vehicles was up 360 per cent and armoured personnel carriers by 350 per cent. Furthermore, Russia was estimated to manufacture almost two million artillery shells a year. In addition to that, it was helped by Iran and North Korea which delivered shells, missiles and drones to Russia (128).

In February 2024, while the Ukrainian defensive line west of the former military stronghold of Avdeevka was still under construction (129), the central and south-eastern part of Avdeevka were almost surrounded and the town cut in two parts. Telegram channel DeepStateUA wrote on February 14: „Katsap [the Russians] advances with a significant number of manpower accompanied by dozens of KABs [aerial guided bombs]. The enemy managed to get to the Industrial Avenue, cutting the connection. The bus depot is also under the control of the enemy. From the south, katsaps continue to bypass Zenit, creating the risk of a complete encirclement.“ (130) A Ukrainian soldier wrote on Telegram that the Russian forces dropped 60-80 aerial bombs in one day: „There is a feeling that this is the largest number of aerial bombs on such a piece of land in the entire time of the existence of mankind. These bombs completely destroy any position. All buildings and structures simply turn into a pit after being hit by just one KAB. And they drop 60-80 of them on us in one day (!!)“ (132)
On 17 February Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s recently appointed commander in chief, ordered the withdrawal of the Ukrainian forces before they were completely encircled: „in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen, I decided to withdraw our units from the city and move to defense on more favorable lines.“ (131) One could speculate if one of the reasons for the long defense of falling Avdeevka could be buying time for the construction of the defensive line in the west.

Also in February the ISW observed that Russia intensified operations in the Kharkiv-Luhansk sector, especially along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line at the north-eastern part of the frontline (133). In this sector the Russian forces in March had already accumulated roughly 100.000 personnel, near Bakhmut 50.000 and near Avdiivka also 50.000 (134). On March 20, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced the establishment of a new army corps, a motor rifle division, and a Dnipro River flotilla. And by the end of the year, thus the Minister, it is planned to form two combined arms armies and thirty formations, including fourteen divisions and sixteen brigades (135). And this, though Russian manpower resources and the size of the officer corps were limited (136).  

(75) Alex Horton, John Hudson, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Samuel Oakford:  U.S. doubts Ukraine counteroffensive will yield big gains, leaked document says, 10.04.2023,
(76) Joint Chiefs of Staff: Consolidated UAF Air Defense, 28.02.2023. I have uploaded the document here:
(77) Kyiv Post: Attacks on Russia Seen as Prelude to Ukraine Offensive, 06.05.2023,
(78) Institute for the Study of War: Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, 05.05.2023,
(79) ; The Times and The Sunday Times: Wagner boss Prigozhin accuses Russia of abandoning key positions near Bakhmut, 13.05.2023,
(80) Brady Africk: Russian field fortifications in Ukraine Satellite imagery shows trenches and barriers span the front line in Ukraine, 10.05.2023,
(81) NATO: Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, 27.04.2023, last updated 28.04.2023,
(82) Jim Sciutto: Britain has delivered long-range ‘Storm Shadow’ cruise missiles to Ukraine ahead of expected counteroffensive, sources say, 12.05.2023,  
(84), 22.05.2023, „Продовжується боротьба за панівні висоти на флангах - півночі і півдні передмістя“
(85) Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on the President’s Trip to Japan, 20.05.2023,
(86) Lara Jakes and Anushka Patil: What Is the F-16 Fighter Jet and Why Does Ukraine Want It?, 18.05.2023,
(87) Dara Massicot on Twitter: How will Russian forces fare on the defensive?, , 13.05.2023
(88) UK Ministry of Defence: Intelligence update Ukraine, 05.06.2023,  
(89) Pete Shmigel: Russia’s Month of Missile Madness: 90% of Projectiles Failed, $1.7 Billion Spent, 31.05.2023,
(90) Kateryna Stepanenko, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, Nicole Wolkov, and Fredrick W. Kagan: Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, 28.05.2023,
(91) Karolina Hird, George Barros, Grace Mappes, Nicole Wolkov, Mason Clark, and Fredrick W. Kagan: Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, 08.06.2023,
(92) Рыбарь: Ореховский участок, 9 июня 2023 года,
(93) Eric Schmitt: U.S. Official Says Spy Satellites Detected Explosion Just Before Dam Collapse, 09.06.2023,  
(94) Cristian Segura: Nova Kakhovka damdisaster hinders Ukrainianoffensive against Russianforces on the Dnipro, 07.06.2023,
(95) Paul Adams: Ukraine's counter-offensive against Russia under way, 09.06.2023,
(96) UK Ministry of Defence: Intelligence update Ukraine, 10.06.2023,  
(97) Karolina Hird, George Barros, Grace Mappes, Nicole Wolkov, Mason Clark, and Fredrick W. Kagan: Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, 08.06.2023,
(98) Karolina Hird, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, and Mason Clark: Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, 15.06.2023,
(99) Yalda Hakim: Ukraine war: Zelensky admits slow progress but says offensive is not a movie, 21.06.2023,
(100) Военная хроника: Почему ВСУ теряют столько людей и техники при атаках на «линию Суровикина»: разбор Военной хроники, 21.06.2023,   
(101) Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Yurii Shyvala: In Small Victory, Signs of Grueling Combat Ahead in Ukrainian Counteroffensive, 02.07.2023, ;
Thore Schröder, Fedir Petrov and Valeriy Resik: Viel Blut für wenige Meter, in: Der Spiegel, Nr. 27, 01.07.2023
(102) Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper: Ukrainian Troops Trained by the West Stumble in Battle, 02.08.2023, ;
Lara Jakes, Andrew E. Kramer and Eric Schmitt: After Suffering Heavy Losses, Ukrainians Paused to Rethink Strategy, 15.07.2023,  
(103) Jack Watling: Stakes are high as Ukraine’s offensive starts to secure a military advantage, 04.08.2023,
(104) Mia Jankowicz: The Storm Shadow missile is 'absolutely critical' to Ukraine's counter-offensive, say experts. But Ukraine needs to use it carefully, 11.07.2023, ;
John Irish: France to supply Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles, 11.07.2023,
(105) Gudrun Dometeit, Stefanie Haas, Jan-Philipp Hein, Antje Hildebrandt, Josef Hufelschulte, Michael Kneissler, Lukas Koperek, Markus Krischer und Leon Werner: Rettet uns diese Rakete im Ernstfall?, Fokus 35, 26.08.2023, S. 37
(106) Tanja Rudež: Pentagon nakon jučerašnje Putinove jezive najave proglasio DEFCON 2, evo što to konkretno znači, 28.02.2022,  
(107) Marc Santora and Tyler Hicks: A Brutal Path Forward, Village by Village, 02.09.2023,   
(108) Howard Altman: Exclusive Interview With Ukraine’s Spy Boss From His DC Hotel Room, 22.09.2023,  
(109) By Josh Smith: Can North Korea’s ammunition offer Russia support in Ukraine war?, 12.09.2023,  
(110) Karen DeYoung and John Hudson: U.S. will send Ukraine long-range missiles, after delay, 22.09.2023,  
(111) Peter Baker: North Korea Shipped Arms to Russia for Use in Ukraine, U.S. Says, 13.10.2023,  
(112) Washington Post Staff: Stalemate: Ukraine‘s failed counteroffensive. In Ukraine, a war of incremental gains as counteroffensive stalls, 04.12.2023,  
(113) , 13.12.2023
(114) , 13.12.2023
(115) Carlotta Gall, Oleksandr Chubko and Olha Konovalova: Ukrainian Marines on ‘Suicide Mission’ in Crossing the Dnipro River, 16.12.2023,  
(116) , 12.12.2023
(117) Siobhan Hughes, Matthew Luxmoore and Catherine Lucey: Republicans Block Ukraine Aid Bill, Putting New Pressure on Border Talks, 06.12.2023,  
(118) The Economist: Ukraine’s commander-in-chief on the breakthrough he needs to beat Russia, 01.11.2023,  
(119) Constant Méheut: Russia Makes Small Battlefield Gains, Increasing Pressure on Ukraine, 22.12.2023, updated 23.12.2023,  
(120) Alexander Sarovic: Furcht vor dem Stillstand, Der Spiegel Nr. 49, 02.12.2023
(121) , 25.11.2023
(122) , 26.11.2023
(123) , 10.12.2023
(124) , 29.12.2023 ; , 29.12.2023
(125) , 22.12.2023; , 22.12.2023
(126) , 02.01.2024 ; , 08.01.2024 ; , 13.01.2024
(127) Joe Barnes: Ukraine digs its own Surovikin line against impending Russian offensive, 20.01.2024,
(128) Roland Oliphant; Joe Barnes; James Rothwell and James Kilner: From scones to drones: inside Putin’s arms race that is leaving the West behind, 26.01.2024,
(129) Asami Terajima: Fate of Avdiivka uncertain as Ukrainian forces defending it struggle with fortifications, resources, 10.02.2024,  
(130) , 14.02.2024
(131) , 17.02.2024
(132) , 16.02.2024
(133) Institute for the Study of War: The Russian Winter-Spring 2024 Offensive Operation on the Kharkiv-Luhansk Axis, 21.02.2024,  
(134) Institute for the Study of War: Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, 22.03.2024 ,  
(135) Министерство обороны Российской Федерации: В Москве прошло заседание Коллегии Министерства обороны Российской Федерации, 20.03.2024,  
(136) Pavel Luzin: Shoigu Has Promised Combined Armies, Divisions, and Brigades, 21.03.2024,  


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