Ukraine’s Strategic Offensive Targets Russia’s Defense, While U.S. Advocates for a Decisive Advancement
Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive against Russian forces has shown limited advances, prompting discussions among key supporters about the need for larger-scale operations. As Ukrainian troops engage in artillery fire and minefield clearance, concerns arise regarding their ability to match Russia’s arsenal and effectively strike. While some Western officials believe a breakthrough is possible, questions remain about Ukraine’s speed and resource management. The following article explores the current status of the operation and the tactics employed by Ukrainian forces.
Five weeks into the anticipated operation, Ukrainian forces are focused on weakening Russian defenses through artillery barrages and small-scale mine-clearing missions. However, progress along the 600-mile front line has raised concerns among Western observers regarding Ukraine’s ability to deliver a powerful blow against Russian forces. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government faces the challenge of matching Russia’s finite supply of munitions and arms.
According to a U.S. official, Ukraine has received training in integrated offensive maneuvers from the United States and other nations. Additionally, mine-clearing equipment, including rollers and rocket-fired charges, has been provided to Ukrainian troops. The key to success lies in the swift utilization of these capabilities to breach Russian obstacles. However, Ukrainian forces are also dealing with intense attacks from antitank munitions and armed Russian drones, adding to the complexity of the situation.
Debates among Western officials and analysts revolve around the most effective tactics for Ukraine to penetrate heavily fortified Russian lines and regain control over significant territory. So far, Ukraine has primarily employed attrition-based approaches, targeting command, transport, and logistics sites in the rear of the Russian position. Western military officials, however, advocate for “combined arms” operations, involving coordinated maneuvers by tanks, armored vehicles, infantry, artillery, and air power. Ukrainian military leaders argue that they must prioritize the preservation of manpower, given Russia’s larger pool of recruits and weaponry.
The Institute for the Study of War notes that Ukraine has liberated around 250 square kilometers since the start of the offensive, falling short of expectations. Unlike the gains made in the previous counteroffensive, this time Russia has had ample time to fortify its positions with mines, trenches, anti-armor units, and drones. The absence of major obstacles behind Russian forces adds to their advantage. While Russia’s military shows signs of strain, including leadership changes and the withdrawal of mercenary forces, it remains a formidable adversary with the ability to reinforce its front lines.
Ukrainian attempts to breach Russian defenses with armored units have been met with overwhelming firepower, resulting in significant losses. Consequently, Ukrainian commanders have adopted low-profile advances involving small groups of infantry and sappers. These advancements minimize attrition but slow down progress and limit the potential for rapid breakthroughs. Ukrainian forces received a boost when President Biden authorized the provision of U.S. cluster munitions, which could sustain their operations until more standard ammunition becomes available from Western nations.
Limited training on combined-arms tactics during the winter has also hindered larger-scale operations. Unlike American forces, who regularly rehearse such tactics at specialized training centers, Ukrainian troops had limited exposure. U.S. officials refrain from extensively commenting on Ukraine’s tactics to avoid criticizing a close partner during this existential threat. They emphasize the need for a combined-arms approach and acknowledge the immense challenges faced by Ukrainian troops navigating a massive minefield under constant fire.
As the campaign continues without significant gains, Ukraine’s top military officer, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, urgently appeals for Western air power to counterbalance Ukraine’s disadvantages. While direct provision of F-16 fighter jets has not been agreed upon, other countries are permitted to transfer their own U.S.-origin planes to Ukraine. Ukrainian officials stress that Western militaries would never undertake a massive operation without air support. Western jets, however, face significant challenges due to Russia’s extensive air defenses. As the offensive progresses, Ukrainian forces must carefully navigate minefields and preserve artillery for future operations.
The West plays a crucial role in supporting Ukraine’s advances, although delayed assistance has caused frustration. The article acknowledges Ukraine’s determination and the urgent need to maintain momentum to overcome Russia’s superior resources.