Even though the Ukrainian Counter offensive has practically been an absolute bloodbath, it is almost a “status quo ante bellum”. In a push to change the status-quo we see an increase in the fighting intensity as summer comes to an end. It is likely that the adverse weather conditions during fall will force the offensive operations to slow down. This is one of the reasons why Ukrainians are trying hard to achieve a major breakthrough before the rain starts pouring in and the air starts freezing. As a result, the Ukrainians have intensified their assaults. These intensified assaults have shown some progress. However, given the unpredictable nature of the ongoing war, it is too early to say if these progresses will lead to any significant victory for the Ukrainians.
Primarily, the battles are being fought along multiple axes in four oblasts of Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Luhansk (The frontline has been depicted in the figure below). However, the Ukrainians have even managed to send drones deep inside Russia and cause serious damages. On 24th of August, some Ukrainian troops managed to disembark in Crimea and we also see intermittent drone strikes on the Russian military facilities in Crimea. However, there has been no significant territorial changes. There has been Ukrainian advancement in Zaporizhia with limited success whereas Russians have also made some advance in the Luhansk region.
Figure : (The visualization of current frontline); source: The Economist
Let us dive into some battles that are being played out in different parts of the frontlines.
The Russian held territories in Kherson is separated from the Ukrainians by the Dnipro River as shown in the figure below (Green denotes Ukrainian terriorities whereas Red denotes Russian occupied territories). This means that the Ukrainians need to mount amphibious operations to cross the river to form a bridgehead. That presents Ukrainians with a daunting amount of logistic undertakings. Landing mechanized armoured fighting units is the biggest challenge given this scenario. Therefore Russians have a clear advantage here. The Russians control heights around the banks of the river and can easily spot vulnerable Ukrainian boats speeding towards them. As of now, the attacks have been repelled by the Russians. The Ukrainians have not been able to mount any successful operation in Kherson region.
Figure source: Deep State Map
Recently, there were reports of Ukrainian attacks along the banks of Dnipro River stretching from the settlement of Hola Prystan to Oleshky. As shown in the figure below, the attacks (shown in yellow arrows) were initiated in multiple directions to push the Russians further south of the Dinpro River. However, as of now no success has been reported.
Figure Source: Military Summary Youtube channel
Given the challenges with logistic, it is unlikely that the Ukrainians will be sending a large number of troops at one time. We will witness more sabotage and reconnaissance group trying to figure out ways to form an effective bridge head across the Dnipro River. The clashes will remain relatively less intense as the Ukrainians will likely concentrate their efforts in Zaporizhia and Donetsk.
Here the Ukrainians claim to have taken full control of Robotyne, a small settlement some 18 km south of Orikhiv. However, multiple sources have advanced doubts on the Ukrainian claim. A number of geo located videos of different assaults in the area give indications that Russians still command control over the southern part of Robotyne.
Notwithstanding the precarious position in Robotyne, the Ukrainians have launched assaults towards the settlement of Verbove which lies few miles south east of Robotyne (see the figure below. The blue arrows indicate Ukrainian advances or the direction of attacks whereas red arrows denotes the Russian direction of attacks) . The Ukrainian infantry managed to cross Russia’s ‘Surovikin line’ likely to perform some reconnaissance operations. This move can be interpreted as a Ukrainian attempt at forming a bridgehead which will allow them to clear the obstacles for a mechanized armoured assault. However, given that both the eastern and western flanks of Ukrainian Armed Forces remain vulnerable on this axis, a possibility of Russian encirclement looms ahead. When Ukrainians initially maintained control over Robotyne, they made an attempt to move towards Novoprokopivka (south of Robotyne) by trying to run over the eastern flank of Russian defensive positions in the southern part of Robotyne. However, they have now concentrated their efforts in the direction of Verbove.
Figure Source: Deep State Map
A video surfaced on WarArchive’s Telegram channel shows Ukrainian amassing Leopard and Challenger tanks in large quantity for an assault allegedly in the direction of verbove. There are reports that Russia has deployed its elite VDV airborne troops to Robotyne. Apart from that, it has been reported that the Russian forces fighting in Kupyansk have been deployed to defend Robotyne area. This points to a major battle ahead in this area.
The Ukrainians have been relentlessly attacking Russian defences but progress has been minimal with high casualties on both sides. If the Ukrainians manage to fight with the same intensity in coming days, we might witness some major breakthrough. However, given the physical obstacles present to deter mechanized armoured assaults along the Surovnik line, a breaktrhough will require extremely difficult and dangerous operations.
Apart from Robotyne in Zaporizhia, the Ukrainians managed to cement control over Staromaiorske and the adjacent settlement of Urozhaine in Donetsk oblast. The village of Staromaiorske was captured by the Ukrainians at the end of July and they soon made a move to take Urozhaine. Some videos which were published online showed the staggering losses of armoured vehicles the Ukrainian suffered during their push to capture Urozhaine. Despite the losses suffered, by 16th of August the Ukrainians successfully took control of Urozhaine.
Figure Source: Deep State Map
As we move further north east, heavy fightings are being reported from Klishchivka and Andriivka area. It is reported that both Russians and Ukrainians have amassed a large number of troops in these areas. Both towns are south west of Bakhmut where the Wagner group managed to drive Ukrainians out after a long and gruesome battle. Though there have been intense artillery duels along this axis, the progress has been minimal for both sides.
Figure Source: Deep State Map
In Luhansk, Russia seems to be on offensive. During the month of July a large Russian troop concentration was reported in Lyman Pershyi area. The Russians are making attempts to advance in the direction of Kupyansk as indicated in the figure below with red arrows. The Russians were able to make some progress in the vicinity of Synkivka. However, the Ukrainians have managed to check any further Russian advance in this region. The Russians have intensified shelling of Kupyansk and the Ukrainian authorities ordered evacuation of civilians present in the city. There have been reports of Russians blowing up bridges in Kupyank possibly to disturb the Ukrainian supply lines running into the city. We will probably see a large scale Russian offensive operations in the direction of Kupyansk in coming days.
Figure Source: Deep State Map
Crimea and Russia
In the month of July, Ukraine managed to strike the bridge linking Russia and Crimea with the use of drones. Soon after, the Ukrainians hit another bridge in Crimea reportedly with a UK made Storm-shadow missile. A large number of Russian military aircrafts were destroyed in an attack on Saki air base in Crimea. Similarly other military bases in Crimea have been regular targets of Ukrainian drones. In a show of defiance and resolve, the Ukrainians managed to successfully perform a landing operation in Crimea and return safely. Though these attacks do not carry significance as far the situation on the frontline is concerned, it sends a costly signal to Russia that the Ukrainians are capable of striking deep within Russian held territories.
As far as attacks within Russia is concerned, the Ukrainians have managed to launch multiple drone attacks over Moscow over the past few months. Apart from drone attacks over Moscow, Ukrainians have successfully targeted military bases deep inside Russia. Many Russian aircrafts have been destroyed with the help of drones. The Russians have not been able to completely supress these intermittent drone strikes. Though the military significance of these attacks are not high, as in the case of attacks in Crimea, the Ukrainians gain a lot of political leverage and it gives their forces a huge morale boost.
Here, we have tried to cover major flash points in this counter offensive. However, there are a large number of other places with regular skirmishes between the Russian and Ukrainian forces. The control of these places alternate regularly. Sometimes Russians manage to take control of a swath of land and sometimes the same territory is retaken by the Ukrainians and vice-versa. We see this pattern repeating along the whole frontline.
In general, the counter offensive has resulted in a stale-mate but not without colossal losses in lives and equipment. Both sides have borne the brunt of this counter-offensive. The Ukrainians are trying their best to achieve something to project their will to win the war. The Russians, on the other hand, though they have manged to mostly repel the Ukrainians, will be looking to deny the Ukrainians any chance of a victory that give them a political leverage.
We see signs of impeding large scale intense battle in Zaporizhia near Robotyne. However, in this war, the acts of breaching defensive positions have come at a very high cost for the attacking units. Whether it be the Russian offensive during the winter of 2022 or the current Ukrainian counter offensive. Therefore, one cannot afford to be highly optimistic given the ground realities. A report saying that Ukraine is running out of men to recruit points to the difficulty in carrying out a large scale offensive operation. Even if the Ukrainians manage to breach the Russian defensive lines, holding the ground will be a completely different story.
However, it is not only Ukrainians who are advancing and launching offensive operations now. The Russians have made some gains as well. Given the numerical superiority of Russians, It is going to be difficult for the Ukrainians to sustain large scale battles along multiple axes in case Russians push north. However, as the saying goes “fortune favours the brave”, the ingenuity and courage with which Ukrainians are moving ahead, they will like to believe that fortune will definitely favour them.