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Calm before the storm. “The military advantage currently lies with Ukraine.” & More Breaking News

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The Ukrainian counter-offensive is putting pressure on Russia in eastern Ukraine.

Leo Correa/AP/dpa/Archive

After the Ukrainian army’s successful offensive in the north-east, Volodymyr Zelenskyy now also wants to recapture Mariupol. But is that realistic? How strong is Ukraine really? An analyst assesses.

“Perhaps it seems to some of you that after a series of victories there has been silence, but it is not silence,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily video address on Sunday. Rather, it is the calm before the storm. Ukraine wants to continue attacking and is preparing the next offensive. The aim of the attacks is the recapture of Cherson in the south of the country. But that’s not all: Ukraine also wants to liberate Melitopol and the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov.

The question is: will the Ukrainian army really try to recapture the Russian-held Azov Sea territories in order to cut the Russian-controlled land connection between the Donbas and Crimea? Or is Zelenskyj bluffing again? After all, he had repeatedly announced an offensive in Cherson since July, only to then strike elsewhere.

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In any case, this tactic worked in Kharkiv. Russia had withdrawn many forces from the region, so Zelenskyj’s troops had a comparatively easy time there. After Ukraine’s successful offensive in the north-east of the country, there was a controversy among military experts about the real strength of the Ukrainian army. The Inspector General of the German Armed Forces, Eberhard Zorn, doubted that Ukraine would be able to push back Russia on a broad front.

Germany’s top soldier had to take a lot of criticism for this assessment and was openly contradicted. The former supreme commander of US forces in Europe, Ben Hodges, has described Zorn’s analysis as “surprisingly poor”.

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Niklas Masuhr is a security researcher and military analyst at the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich.

How strong is Ukraine really? blue News asked Niklas Masuhr, military analyst from ETH Zurich.

“We still tend to know little about the Ukrainian side: exactly how many reserves they have and what condition they are in,” says Masuhr. «What we have seen is that Ukraine is very well equipped. This is a huge difference compared to the beginning of the war or even to 2014. And Ukraine has proven to lead counter-offensives with formations of different branches of arms.”

“The military advantage is currently on the Ukrainian side,” estimates Masuhr. Like some other analysts, he did not expect Ukraine to be capable of launching such an offensive just yet.

But Ukraine is advancing further in the north-east and has probably crossed the Oskil River, where the Russians recently established their new front. This line is now wobbly: According to their own statements, the Ukrainian military was able to cross troop units on the river and thus form a bridgehead to the east.

How long could Ukraine continue the offensive?

“Every offensive loses momentum at some point,” says Masuhr. “If you push too far beyond your own supply lines, you lose combat power and become vulnerable: With such overstretching, the resistance of the opposing troops does not even have to be particularly great.”

It should not be forgotten that war is quite mechanised. «The troop density is relatively low: there is no continuous line of divisions advancing side by side, but during the counter-offensive in the north on the Ukrainian side we saw mobile brigades that move quite a bit in open space. Without ammunition and fuel, you quickly become an easy target.”

Ukraine must therefore inevitably take breaks to set up supply bases and reorganize the troops.

What impact will the coming winter have on the war?

“Of course it becomes more difficult to conduct offensive operations when the ground gets muddy. But in winter, when the ground is frozen, it gets easier again,” says Masuhr, who also clarifies: “Ukraine is a big country and doesn’t have just one climate zone. In the northern Donbas, the weather conditions are different from those in the south. So the windows of opportunity for offensive operations are not necessarily simultaneous.”

Zelenskyj wants to recapture Mariupol and Melitopol. How realistic is that?

In principle, it is much more difficult to recapture Melitopol and Mariupol than to conduct a regional counter-offensive in the north. Masuhr: “When it comes to street fighting, house-to-house fighting, things look different: It’s something different to recapture a sparsely populated area than to take a city like Cherson.”

What can Russia currently do militarily against the Ukrainians?

Niklas Masuhr does not believe that Russia still has significant offensive potential that is not currently being used. A significant part of the Russian troops had to be sent to the Cherson bridgehead in order to be able to hold it.

Russia no longer has a conventional escalation dominance, says Masuhr: “The Russian army has in Sievjerodonetsk the culminating point achieved: the momentum of major offensive efforts was over there, which has not been able to be resumed since then. »

This is relevant for the assessment of the overall situation. «In order to take Sievjerodonetsk, Russia built up a permanent artillery architecture in a very small area and fired up to 50,000 shells a day. What Ukraine did very skillfully: after the withdrawal from Sievjerodonetsk, the western ones Himars and GMLRS to use to destroy the Russian artillery depots.”

“The capture of Sievjerodonetsk was a minimum goal for Russia, after two unsuccessful attempts to conquer larger areas there or to encircle large parts of the Ukrainian army after strategically concentrating on the east of the country. If you will, Russia had to settle for the lowest level of ambition.”

«What Ukraine did after that is to take the initiative with the offensive in Kherson. Apparently, they did not primarily try to recapture large parts of the area there. Ukraine was concerned with tying down Russian troops and at the same time hitting their logistics.” On the other hand, if she tried to retake the city of Kherson while still within range of Russian artillery, she could overdo it.

What other options does Moscow have?

The Russian army is mainly limited to defending itself in Ukraine. “Russia is forced to hold the bridgehead in Cherson, albeit under conditions that are steadily deteriorating because supply routes and ammunition depots are being destroyed,” says Masuhr. “It’s an increasingly vulnerable position for Russia: Ukraine’s goal in Kherson, to put it bluntly, is to create a bleeding wound for the Russian army.”

But that doesn’t mean that Ukraine can simply take over the area with frontal attacks: “Even troops who are unable to carry out offensive operations can still defend areas and inflict high losses on the enemy.”

However, the Ukrainian offensive also shows that the Russian army is currently not in a position to defend conquered territory and conduct offensives at the same time.

Can’t Russia just recruit more soldiers?

This is going to be difficult. The mobilization has been in the media since May: “But Russia, for example, has no infantry school, no central training facilities, as there are in other countries. The recruits are trained by their units: If they are deployed in Ukraine, then they cannot be trained,” says Masuhr.

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