West puzzled by Ukrainian war strategy that positioned forces in the wrong direction making the counter-offensive go poorly
Ukraine’s counteroffensive is struggling because some of Kiev’s best troops are “in the wrong places,” the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing senior US and UK officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kiev’s main objective is to reach the Sea of Azov, cutting Crimea off from the Russian mainland. Yet, Ukraine currently has more troops on the eastern front – facing Artyomovsk, also known as Bakhmut – than in the “far more strategically significant” south, according to the Times.
Russian forces supreme commander Vladimir Putin at the Southern military District HQ Rostov on Don last 19/08/23
American planners have advised Ukraine to concentrate on the front driving toward Melitopol… and on punching through Russian minefields and other defenses, even if the Ukrainians lose more soldiers and equipment in the process,” the newspaper claimed.
Ukrainian main effort
The Russian Defense Ministry has estimated Ukraine had lost 45,000 dead and over 5,000 vehicles in the past two months of fighting, without penetrating Russian defences.
“Only with a change of tactics and a dramatic move can the tempo of the counteroffensive change,”a US official told the newspaper, while other sources cited in the article argued that even that may be too little, too late.
The south where NATO said should be Ukrainian main effort
Kiev’s insistence on keeping a large force in the east is particularly “perplexing” to American and British officials, as Western doctrine calls for commitment to a clear main effort. They argue that a smaller force could serve to pin down the Russian defenders, and while Ukraine theoretically has enough troops to retake Artyomovsk, doing so would “lead to large numbers of losses for little strategic gain.”
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, his British counterpart Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe Christopher Cavoli all urged Ukraine’s top general Valery Zaluzhny to focus on the southern front in an August 10 call, the Times said.
Zaluzhny supposedly agreed. Just five days later, however, President Vladimir Zelensky was touring the “Soledar sector” near Artyomovsk, visiting the neo-Nazi ‘Azov’ unit and speaking about the importance of the eastern front.
According to the Times, Ukraine has started to redeploy some units to the south, but “even the most experienced units have been reconstituted a number of times after taking heavy casualties.”
Kiev is currently “tapping into its last strategic reserves,” and unnamed Western analysts worry that Ukrainian forces “may run out of steam” by mid-September, even before a change in weather turns the ground into impassable mud.
The Times itself noted that US criticism comes from the perspective of officers “who have never experienced a war of this scale and intensity,” and that the US war doctrine “has never been tested in an environment like Ukraine’s, where Russian electronic warfare jams communications and GPS,” and there is no air superiority.
Russia’s air superiority was demonstrated on Tuesday, Russian Defense Ministry has published footage of an attack on a US-made speedboat operated by the Ukrainian military in the Black Sea. It was reportedly destroyed by a warplane earlier.
The video, which was apparently shot from the Russian warplane, showed the boat making sharp turns as the aircraft fired its cannon in short bursts.
The target was identified by the Russian military as a US-produced Willard Sea Force model. California-based Willard Marine produces several sizes of rigid inflatable patrol boats. The firm has sold a number of these to the Ukrainian Navy, according to local media reports.
Ukrainian soldiers of the 28th brigade with German patches on the frontline close to Bakhmut/Artyomovsk, August 20, 2023. © AP Photo/Libkos
The Russian military did not reveal the exact model of the boat, but said it was carrying a Ukrainian amphibious team when it was intercepted on Tuesday morning to the east of Snake Island.
Snake Island was captured by Russian forces shortly after hostilities with Ukraine broke out in February 2022. The Russian Defense Ministry withdrew troops from the island in June, in what Kiev claimed to be a major military victory. However, Russia described the move as a gesture of goodwill to promote the Black Sea grain deal.
“As you can see, the situation on the contact line is currently stable,” the Russian leader said during a meeting with Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) acting head Leonid Pasechnik in the Kremlin on Wednesday.
Putin went on to comment on Kiev’s recent tactics, which have failed to yield any significant territorial gains, but cost heavy losses of Ukrainian troops and armor. “They are throwing [Ukrainian soldiers] on our minefields, under our artillery fire, acting as if they are not their own citizens at all. It is astonishing,” Putin said.
Despite Kiev’s public optimism regarding its offensive operations, which were launched in early June, international media has reported that Western officials are growing concerned and frustrated over the lackluster results achieved by the Ukrainian military, as well as the loss of NATO-supplied equipment, including heavy tanks.