Ukraine: Five questions on the stakes of a counter-offensive

Ukraine: Five questions on the stakes of a counter-offensive

1. When did the second Ukrainian counter-offensive begin?

These attacks, which follow those of September 2022, began well on June 4, 466 days after the start of the invasion of the country by Russian forces. In Kiev, the general staff was waiting for a range of favorable conditions to be met: the reconstitution of ammunition stocks, the delivery of assault tanks by the Western allies, the accelerated training of combatants in new equipment, the end of the thaw (the dreaded “raspoutitsa”) and the return to dry ground, essential to avoid seeing the heavy armored vehicles get bogged down.

2. What is the objective of the Ukrainian army?

President Volodymyr Zelensky hammers it: the fighting will last until the return of the territorial integrity of his country within its international borders, those before the first Russian invasion of 2014. By this yardstick, each square kilometer recovered (100 km 2 in ten days) is already an intermediate victory. The position of Western allies and arms suppliers is more reserved: they refer to support “as much as necessary”, i.e. – albeit with some ambiguity – a return to the status quo before February 2022. For Every hour, the Ukrainians are testing the opposing defenses, in dozens of places, on a 1,200 kilometer long front, in order to detect possible weak points. Their forces are advancing, at the cost of “fierce fighting” according to Jens Stoltenberg, NATO boss, up to a few hundred meters a day, in the Zaporijia region and south towards the Sea of ​​Azov. By blowing up the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper on the 6th, which caused a gigantic flood in the Kherzon region, and by destroying other smaller ones since, the Russian army gained respite by delaying any attack from scope in the South, towards Crimea, annexed by Putin in March 2014.

3. Will this offensive shorten the war?

Most likely not. Even the Ukrainian side dare not promise a lightning offensive. The Russian army, in recent months, has massively reinforced its lines of defense (“dragon’s teeth”, trenches, anti-tank ditches, etc.). A tradition inherited from the Second World War: in Kursk, in July 1943, the tanks of the Wehrmacht broke on the Soviet fortifications built according to the rules of the “maskirovka”, the art of camouflage still taught in Russian military schools. Eighty years later, Ukrainian tanks face a similar challenge to consider a breakthrough. “Ukraine is currently the largest minefield in the world,” summed up Prime Minister Denys Chmyhal. An area of ​​250,000 km2 (half of France) would have been strewn from the air with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. It will take months to see a significant result. Unless there is a sudden change at the head of the Kremlin, the war is likely to last for years. “If these offensives (…) fail in front of a front line more solid than ever, we will move towards a blocked conflict with decreasing intensity” forecast Michel Goya and Jean Lopez in The Bear and the Fox – Immediate History of the War in Ukraine (Ed. Perrin).

4. What role for aviation?

Russian air superiority limits the potential of Ukrainian operations. “Succeeding a large-scale offensive without supremacy in the air against a formidable entrenched enemy has probably never been done,” notes Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategy at the University of Saint Andrews (Scotland) . kyiv has only a few Mig 19s, and will not benefit from Western fighters for months, even if the training of its pilots in the West has already begun.

5. Why should we not forget the other fronts?

While the land front comes alive, “hybrid warfare” continues elsewhere in other forms. Vladimir Putin is trying to activate a lever of pressure on the West by threatening not to extend, in mid-July, the agreement on the transport of fertilizers and cereals through the ports of the Black Sea. Moscow is stepping up its cyberattacks: Swiss administration sites are targeted, French information sites are hijacked and disseminate false news. Finally, the nuclear blackmail is reactivated by the confirmed announcement, but not yet effective, of a transfer of warheads to the Belarusian ally. For its part, NATO began on June 12 the largest air exercise since its foundation: 250 fighters were deployed from the Netherlands to the Czech Republic to respond to a scenario of aggression against a member of the Alliance. A free warning issued to Vladimir Putin if he thought of overflowing the conflict.

The number

100 square kilometers were recovered in ten days by Ukrainian forces.

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