Ukraine's Spring Counteroffensive Has Been Delayed Again — Here's Why
Analysts have been talking about a Ukrainian counteroffensive since the end of last year. But when, where and how it will happen is still a closely guarded secret, thrown into further turmoil by the embarrassing leaks from inside the U.S. Defense Department. Ultimately, however, there are other factors that matter more.
KYIV — All last winter and into the spring, media and military analysts talked about the Russian offensive in Donbas and the upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive. But military and political leaders say all of this talk is nothing more than reading tea leaves. According to the secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, at most five people know where and when the Ukrainian counteroffensive will begin.
In early February, top Ukrainian military and political leaders held closed-door briefings for G7 diplomats. At the time, the counteroffensive was planned for April or May. But in early April, secret Pentagon documents were leaked to the public on gaming servers.
The head of Ukraine's Main Intelligence Directorate, Kyrylo Budanov, believes that this was a Kremlin information operation to strike at relations between Ukraine and the U.S., while other Ukrainian military officials believe that the U.S. will benefit the most from it: both Kyiv and Moscow discovered that Washington has a wide range of data on their forces.
Still, the Ukrainian military says the U.S. leak hasn't disrupted planning. "This data leak will not affect the counteroffensive in any way. There is no word about our real plans," says a senior Ukrainian security official. "We have plans, the General Staff has approved them, and we are moving slowly. The next couple of months will be difficult."
The forecast for when the counteroffensive will start has already shifted to May or June. But the reason for these changes is not the leaked documents, but spring rain and flooding, which complicates military logistics and the movement of heavy equipment, as well as delayed weapons shipments from Ukraine's allies.
"The world loves winners. Understand that if we show success and the ability to win during the counteroffensive, this will be key to our partners' willingness to continue to help us. Without victories, it won't be easy to maintain support. Therefore, we need to win," explains one politician in the Presidential Administration.
The success of the military operations will determine the further course of events in many areas: from the very existence of Ukraine within its borders and its place in the geopolitical game, to purely domestic political developments.
How seriously President Volodymyr Zelensky's team takes the need to win at all costs can be seen in an interesting private meeting in Kyiv in early April. The head of the Presidential Office invited several deputy heads of the Presidential Office, as well as law enforcement leaders, top managers from the banking and energy sectors as well as ministers and members of Parliament who had proven their effectiveness during the full-scale war, and gave each of them a personal task from the president.
Zelensky determined that these trusted people should deal with the issue of manning new brigades for the counteroffensive. Essentially, the Presidential Office decided to whom and which brigade to entrust. The meeting participants are responsible for rapidly equipping the troops. What the brigades lack must be found by the responsible "curator," using all possible means.
"This is a good idea of Zelensky's. These are his people, and they will be able to help the military quickly. And the president also gets another channel of communication with these brigades directly, so no soldier or official can report that everything is fine when he has real problems," explains a member of the president's team.
What they say they'll give, and what they give are different things.
"Many officials and managers know exactly how to set up supply chains for what the teams need here and now. You understand that it often involves political connections at home and abroad. All this should speed up the equipping of the fighters and get a parallel channel of communication from the rank-and-file," the source tells Ukrainska Pravda.
From defense to offense
In an interview with The Economist in December 2022, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi outlined Ukraine's urgent needs: 300 tanks, 700 infantry fighting vehicles and 500 howitzers.
At the same time, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov explained that these were the army's needs for a specific operation, and that much more equipment and weapons were needed to fully liberate Ukrainian lands.
Western partners have been working to supply weapons to Ukraine throughout the winter and early spring. Despite several breakthrough decisions on tanks and air defense systems, many controversial issues and shortages remain. In particular, the supply of modern Western F-16 aircraft, ammunition, heavy weapons and mortars.
According to a Ukrainian armed forces source, another problem is the quality of what Ukraine is being given.
"What politicians say they'll give, and what they give are different things. Their equipment was often stored somewhere in the open, and what looked cool on paper was not adequate in reality. Hence the slow speed of delivery," says the source.
If the active phase of the offensive lasts for a month, the Ukrainian army can fire approximately 20,000-25,000 shells daily. Currently, Ukrainian forces are primarily on the defensive. To understand the army's needs in an offensive, we can compare the use of shells by the enemy during the active phase of the offensive against Ukraine: from March to August 2022, the Russians fired about 50,000 shells every day.
Ukrainian Soldiers act as pall bearers as the coffin of Artur Asadov is transported to the cemetery in Pidhirtsi.
Of course, a counteroffensive, and all the new equipment, also require a large number of trained personnel. Ukraine is preparing more than a dozen newly created brigades, both in the regular armed forces and the national guard, for a major offensive. Public data shows at least 16 such divisions (approximately 40,000-50,000 people).
The most visible, on billboards and in TV ads with catchy slogans, is the recruitment process for the "Offensive Guard," which will include eight assault brigades.
Everyone who joins the Guard undergoes 45 days of training, covering the basics of military service as well as classes with instructors depending on their specialty (machine gunner, grenade launcher, UAV operator and more), and combat coordination. Combat medics, sappers and sergeants have trained abroad in Poland, the UK and Germany.
The offensive will start only when Ukrainian forces are ready, and not because of political expediency.
"We are focusing on the assault troops. After all, our task will be to enter and knock out the enemy, and only then the armed forces will follow us and gain a foothold. We have armored personnel carriers and mortars," the battalion's representative explains.
In contrast to the Offensive Guard, the recruitment and training of new brigades in the regular armed forces, which will receive Western tanks and long-range artillery — and thus presumably be the main strike force of the offensive — is taking place in almost complete silence.
Most sources who spoke with Ukrainska Pravda agree that the offensive will start only when Ukrainian forces are ready, and not because of political expediency.
"The course of a war is always influenced by many factors, ranging from political and diplomatic ones to properly organized supply chains and personnel motivation," ays a source in the General Staff. "If all these factors are right, then it's up to the armed forces."
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