Even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is now saying so: the long-awaited counteroffensive to recapture Russian-occupied territories has begun. After months of defending against a barrage of air strikes, Ukraine is on the offensive, looking for weak spots along the 600-mile front line and even launching strikes on Russian soil.
But after days of sometimes intense fighting, it was hard to tell what was going on in Ukraine. Why don’t we have a better idea of whether the counterattack was successful? It’s complicated, for a number of reasons related to how wars are fought. Here’s why.
Attack is more difficult than defense.
Military history has long shown that it is much more difficult to capture territory than to defend it. This is partly why Russian forces did not reach Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, last year after President Vladimir Putin sent them across the border.
Their convoys bogged down and became the constant ducks of Ukrainian forces armed with shoulder-fired missiles. Their air force is largely held back at the border by mobile Ukrainian air defences, and its inability to wage a combined arms war (when all parts of the military know what others are doing and coordinate), means that Mr. Putin’s plans to take over the entire country are not coming to fruition.
But he managed to seize territories in eastern and southern Ukraine. From then on, the Russian forces used their time as occupiers to dig in and build fortifications for defense.
Now it is Ukraine that is counterattacking, and the Russians are preparing.
Written by military analysts Seth G. Jones, Alexander Palmer, and Joseph S. paper It was published last week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The Russian military built trenches, minefields, dragon’s teeth, and other barriers to slow down Ukrainian forces during offensive operations.”
Military experts say this means that advancing Ukrainian forces need to look for areas where Russia’s defensive lines are weak and poorly reinforced before trying to break through. At the same time, Ukrainian forces must try not to allow weak spots to be persuaded to venture deep behind enemy lines before they have sufficient reinforcements.
During World War II, Germany used reinforced concrete pyramids to repel Allied tanks. The general idea was that evenly spaced rows of hulls—some with land mines between them—would force the tanks into positions where they could be more easily targeted.
The pyramids were called dragon teeth because they resemble a fanged mouth, being about three to four feet high.
Satellite imagery this year showed that Russian forces erected dragon’s-tooth barricades between anti-tank trenches and trenches across eastern Ukraine and toward Crimea.
Will Ukraine suffer big losses in the counterattack?
This is what is really happening. U.S. officials confirmed that Ukrainian forces suffered loss of life and equipment in the early fighting. Little information is available on Russian casualties, but officials noted that the attackers usually suffered greater initial losses than the hidden defenders, for reasons explained earlier.
On D-Day, for example, German losses have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 killed or wounded, while Allied losses are documented at around 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed kills.
Videos and photos posted by Russian pro-war bloggers last week, verified by The New York Times, showed at least three Ukrainian German-made Leopard 2 tanks and eight US-made Bradley Fighting Vehicles recently. deserted or destroyed.
Does this mean that the counterattack failed?
No. Two US officials said Monday that the main thrust of the counterattack may not have begun. One of the officials said that the bulk of the nine Ukrainian brigades that the United States and allied countries have trained over the past year and a half are not yet involved in combat.
Said Frederick B. Hodges, the former top commander of the US Army in Europe, said in an e-mail: “When we see large armored formations in the attack, I think we will know that the main attack has already begun.” “So far, I don’t think we’ve seen those large armored formations, that is, several hundred tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.”
He added that the Ukrainian tank battalion was to include 31 tanks, and that the armored brigade would include about 250 armored vehicles of various types. Such a massive battle formation can easily be spotted by satellite imagery.
General Hodges said, “When we see two or three of those brigades concentrating on a narrow front somewhere, I think we can say where the main attack has begun.” But even then, this is not certain. The Ukrainian General Staff will want to keep the Russians guessing about the main attack site for as long as possible.”
The Allies did the same on D-Day, concealing the whereabouts of Operation Overlord and mistaking the Germans, who thought the attack was more likely to take place in northern France, near Calais, than in Normandy.
Can Ukraine use the element of surprise?
Maybe, but it will be hard. Modern warfare comes with satellite images available to the opponents. Ukraine could not infiltrate 150,000 soldiers into the Russian lines, as the Allies did in Normandy.
“The Germans could have seen this through satellites” if the technology had been available, Mr. Jones, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an interview. “So you don’t have that option.”
What Ukraine has, he said, is what it is doing now: launching attacks in different locations, looking for vulnerabilities, but also forcing the Russians to try to defend in multiple places.
What’s more, said Mr. Jones, Ukraine has its own satellite imagery.
“What we’re seeing now, I think, is the Ukrainians testing the weaknesses in the Russian lines,” he said. With some poorly defended areas, “there is certainly a possibility for the Ukrainians to break through the shoddy fortifications and poor Russian forces defending those areas.”
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