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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Is Ukraine's Counteroffensive On Hold?

Ukraine's counteroffensive has been marked by grueling combat. Independent Russian news site Agenstvo spoke to military experts who explain why progress is slow and how worrying the situation is for Ukraine.

A Ukrainian soldier observes his enemies in the Kharkiv region.

A Ukrainian soldier observes his enemies in the Kharkiv region.

Agenstvo

-Analysis-

KYIV — The recent Ukrainian counteroffensive actions have made headlines in the past few weeks. But it remains unclear if this is the long-awaited counteroffensive that seeks to reclaim vast swathes of Russian-occupied territories or if the activities undertaken by Ukraine were probing attacks, aimed at assessing Russia's defensive capabilities.

While the true nature of the situation remains unclear amid the fog of war, it is evident that intense battles are taking place in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Military experts told the independent Russian news site agency.media (Agenstvo), that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has significantly slowed down. They say the reason is that the Russian army has strong defenses, air superiority and has improved its coordination and logistics.

According to the analysts, Kyiv is pausing its counteroffensive to reassess its plans and has not yet deployed around 85% of its prepared forces.


Slower than desired

Ukraine's counteroffensive is progressing "slower than desired," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with BBC. The primary reason is that the Russian army has mined 200,000 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory.

“Some people believe this is a Hollywood movie and expect immediate results. It's not,” Zelensky said. “People’s lives are at stake."

According to official Kyiv information, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have liberated eight settlements in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, occupying an area of 113 square kilometers since the start of the counteroffensive.

Pro-Russian channels reported that the Ukrainian Armed Forces made no significant progress in the Zaporizhzhia, Soledar, and Donetsk directions over the past 24 hours. These sources mention local clashes and some successes by the Russians.

The pro-Russian military blogger Rybar writes that Russian troops are fighting to retake the Piatykhatky settlement, which Ukraine captured a few days earlier. Additionally, his Telegram channel notes that Russian forces have made gains near Kremina.

President Zelensky with a foreign ambassador in Ukraine.

President Zelensky with a foreign ambassador in Ukraine.

President Of Ukraine/Zuma

Stronger Russian army than before

The Russians have prepared powerful defensive lines, including anti-tank obstacles and fortified positions for its infantry, missile complexes, and artillery, according to OSINT analyst Kirill Mikhailov who spoke with Agenstvo.

It's more akin to a battle of attrition and a contest of whose logistics are better.

"As there aren't multiple passageways through the minefields along a wide front, the Ukrainians are forced to advance in small columns that can easily be targeted by artillery and anti-tank guided missiles," OSINT analyst and U.S. Army veteran Henry Schlottman told Agenstvo.

The Russian army is "stronger than before", according to the analyst. It is putting up resistance, has improved its supply lines, and its counterattacks have deprived the Ukrainian offensive of momentum.

"The counteroffensive is more akin to a battle of attrition and a contest of whose logistics are better," Schlottman said.

“The Russians have moved their equipment and ammunition depots over 100 km away from the front lines, making them inaccessible to HIMARS missiles. However, strikes can still be carried out on the final railway stations using Storm Shadow missiles,” said Kirill Mikhailov.

Russian air superiority 

UK intelligence reported that Russia has deployed attack helicopters, including the Ka-52, to the front line.

“This allows them to launch attacks on the Ukrainian Armed Forces with anti-tank guided missiles from Ka-52 helicopters,” said Mikhailov.

Additionally, he notes that Russia is conducting airstrikes with precision-guided bombs from SU-34 aircraft using a planning and correction module, which assists guided missiles in accurately hitting their targets.

Meanwhile, according to Schlottman, the Ukrainian air force has had minimal involvement in the offensive so far.

A Ukrainian soldier named Stas told The Financial Times that he had witnessed several instances where attacking units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces came under fire from Russian aircraft and helicopters. Military expert Guy Plopsky, speaking to The War Zone project, stated that the activity of Russian attack helicopters, particularly the Ka-52, has significantly increased with the start of the counteroffensive.

The Russian military expert Yuri Fedorov, on the other hand, does not see a widespread use of such helicopters, only isolated attacks.

“Although Russia has around 350 attack helicopters in its arsenal, there is a lack of adequately trained crews and guided or controlled missiles,” Fedorov told Agenstvo.

\u200bUkrainian soldiers help one of their own walk in Poland.

Ukrainian soldiers help one of their own walk in Poland.

Bill Graveland/ZUMA

Slow but persistent

According to Fedorov, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are "slowly but persistently" advancing around Bakhmut and could achieve a tactical encirclement of the city. He believes this forces Moscow to redeploy units from the Kherson region, which weakens its defense there.

“Another task for the Ukrainian Armed Forces could be to reach the Sea of Azov and reclaim the city of Melitopol and parts of the Zaporizhzhia region,” Fedorov said.

“It is difficult to say whether Ukraine's counteroffensive in this area is an actual offensive or if its combat reconnaissance to assess the Russian army's resilience, its combat capability, defenses, and identify any weak points or where the fortifications are particularly strong,” the expert added.

Fedorov believes that it will only be possible to speak of a general offensive when Kyiv deploys all its prepared forces into the attack. This includes 12 mechanized brigades and eight Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) brigades, totaling 70,000 personnel.

Ukrainians are attacking where anticipated, and Russian forces have prepared for it.

"Until that is done, I would refrain from speculating on the progress of the offensive, but there has been progress as of yesterday," said Fedorov.

Based on his information, three mechanized brigades of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are currently involved in the fighting, a fact confirmed by Ukrainian sources.

What next?

“It is currently difficult to conclude that the Ukrainian offensive has been halted. Ukrainians are attacking where anticipated, and Russian forces have prepared for it,” Oleg Ignatov, the International Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Russia, told Agenstvo.

He believes that there may be “tactical pauses and a reassessment of plans during the advance, but there is no evidence of that yet.”

The observed pauses, according to Ignatov, are due to a need to adapt to the enemy, but he does not expect a "radical change in the behavior of the Ukrainian army".

On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin stated that the offensive potential of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is not exhausted, and there are reserves, while Ukrainian military officials are considering where and how to deploy them.

According to his information, as of June 21, the losses of the Ukrainian army included 245 tanks and approximately 678 armored vehicles, including Western Leopards, American, and French armored vehicles.

This accounts for about half of Ukraine's total verified losses throughout the war. However, the verified videos and photos released after the start of the counteroffensive do not confirm such significant losses for the Ukrainian army.

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