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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Ukraine's Counteroffensive Will Be No Blitzkrieg — And It Has Already Begun

The West has been eagerly awaiting Ukraine's counteroffensive, but is mistakenly convinced it will be a major tank assault. Kyiv has already launched the first actions, as it also tries to lower its allies' expectations of rapid victory.

Photo of ​Ukrainian soldiers working on a Leopard tank.

Ukrainian soldiers working on a German-provided Leopard tank on May 5

Clemens Wergin


KYIV — The anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive has now taken on quasi-mythical dimensions both inside and outside the country.

A notion has taken root in any minds that massive, newly assembled brigades equipped with Western battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles will take Russian positions by storm and recapture large swaths of occupied territory — preferably in a blitzkrieg-fashion, similar to what Nazi Germany's armored units did in the region during World War II.

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The reality, however, could turn out to be much more prosaic, as Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov recently warned.

Above all, the impatient anticipation of attacks by large mechanized formations obscures a simple fact: the initial, preparatory phases of the Ukrainian counterattack have long begun.

The counteroffensive "has been going on for awhile," military expert Marcus Keupp of ETH Zurich also told Deutschlandfunk radio. "Many have the images of World War II in their heads, that is, that the offensive begins when the tanks advance. That's nonsense, because that's the conclusion of the offensive, not its beginning."

Disrupted Russian fuel supplies

For weeks, the Ukrainians have been carrying out preparatory measures to soften up and test Russian positions. This is similar to what happened in the Kherson province in the fall before the Ukrainians actually advanced with armored formations and forced the Russians to retreat from the western bank of the Dnipro River.

So, the Ukrainians have significantly intensified their drone attacks on Russian fuel depots over the past week in an effort to disrupt supplies for Russian troops on the front lines. Several times, for example, a fuel depot in Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea was attacked, with several huge tanks destroyed.

Drone attacks were reported on logistical hubs of the southern supply line.

Large fires triggered by drone strikes were also reported at a refinery in Ilsky, located in Russia's Krasnodar province near the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. An oil storage facility in Krasnodar Krai also went up in flames. A total of four Russian fuel depots were either damaged or destroyed last week. All of them are located in the catchment area of the southern supply line that supplies Russian troops in Zaporizhzhia province and in the parts of Kherson that are still occupied.

In addition, drone attacks were reported on logistical hubs of the southern supply line, such as Krasnoperekopsk and Dzhankoi. Other attacks targeted military airfields, primarily in Crimea.

The Ukrainians reportedly also succeeded in attacking an airfield in Bryansk, Russia, destroying an Antonov-124 transport aircraft and damaging another.

The increasing number of Ukrainian drone attacks on strategic Russian targets in Crimea are apparently also intended to scout the positions and capabilities of Russian radar sites.

Photo of Ukrainian troops on a tank in the Zaporizhzhia Region\u200bUkrainian troops practice assault operations on Russian positions in the Zaporizhzhia Region

Dmytro Smoliyenko/Ukrinform/ZUMA

Expectation management in Ukraine

According to Keupp, an offensive "typically begins first with intelligence, that is, that potential weak points and targets are identified with preparatory fire, i.e. artillery and drone strikes." Keupp believes that Ukraine is currently in this phase.

Indeed, partisan attacks against Russian targets or Ukrainian collaborators in the occupied territories are also increasing. In addition, there are also increased acts of sabotage within Russia against, for example, the railroads, which form the backbone of Russian logistics.

“Most people are waiting for something huge."

For their part, the Russians seem to assume that the decisive phase of the Ukrainian offensive, with breakthrough attempts by armored units, is imminent. The Russian-appointed "governor" of the Zaporizhzhia province announced on Friday that he was evacuating 18 localities in the border area because of increasing Ukrainian artillery fire.

The region is considered a likely target of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. That's because if Ukraine succeeds in gaining territory in the front there all the way to the Sea of Azov, it could both threaten Russian positions in Crimea and cut off the southern part of the Russian front from supply lines.

But Kyiv is trying to dampen hopes about reclaiming large areas. After all, the Russians have built multiple defenses, often staggered one behind the other, on many sections of the front. "The expectation from our counteroffensive campaign is overestimated in the world,” Defense Minister Reznikov told The Washington Post. “Most people are […] waiting for something huge,” he said, adding that the reality may end up disappointing them.

This kind of expectation management is also part of Ukraine's preparatory measures. They are aware that much depends on giving the West the impression that supporting their country is worthwhile and that, with proper support, the Ukrainian army can liberate more occupied regions.

Moscow propaganda

"I believe that the more victorious we are on the battlefield, the more people will believe in us, which means we will get more help," President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

The only question is: by what will success or failure be measured?

"I cannot tell you what the scale of this success would be. Ten kilometers, 30 kilometers, 100 kilometers, 200 kilometers?” said Reznikov.

This is precisely why Kyiv is trying to dampen the rampant optimism.

Moscow is engaged in its own expectation management.

Whatever the Ukrainians manage to achieve in the end, the important thing is for the actions to be perceived as a success, not a failure. And the higher the expectations in the West for the Ukrainian offensive, the more likely the actual results will disappoint. This is precisely why Kyiv is trying to dampen the rampant optimism.

Moscow is engaged in its own expectation management. The Kremlin regularly issues propaganda guidelines to state media to control narratives among the Russian public. The independent Russian news website Meduza, working from exile, now reports on Kremlin handouts aimed at preparing the Russian public for Ukrainian territorial gains.

The document says reporters should "not minimize expectations for the NATO-backed counteroffensive announced by Ukraine" and not pretend that Kyiv is unprepared. Instead, the media should emphasize that Kyiv has been provided with Western weapons and is receiving other kinds of support as well.

This, Meduza's internal sources said, is aimed at making Russia's military look better. If the offensive fails, the insiders quoted say, "you can say that the army has repelled a very powerful attack," which would increase the significance of a Russian victory. If, on the other hand, the Ukrainians are successful, then that could be explained by strong Western support.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Will Winter Crack The Western Alliance In Ukraine?

Kyiv's troops are facing bitter cold and snow on the frontline, but the coming season also poses longer term political questions for Ukraine's allies. It may be now or never.

Ukraine soldier in winer firing a large canon with snow falling

Ukraine soldier firing a large cannon in winter.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — Weather is a weapon of war. And one place where that’s undoubtedly true right now is Ukraine. A record cold wave has gripped the country in recent days, with violent winds in the south that have cut off electricity of areas under both Russian and Ukrainian control. It's a nightmare for troops on the frontline, and survival itself is at stake, with supplies and movement cut off.

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This is the reality of winter warfare in this part of Europe, and important in both tactical and strategic terms. What Ukraine fears most in these circumstances are Russian missile or drone attacks on energy infrastructures, designed to plunge civilian populations into cold and darkness.

The Ukrainian General Staff took advantage of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's visit to Kyiv to ask the West to provide as many air defense systems as possible to protect these vital infrastructures. According to Kyiv, 90% of Russian missile launches are intercepted; but Ukraine claims that Moscow has received new weapon deliveries from North Korea and Iran, and has large amounts of stocks to strike Ukraine in the coming weeks.

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