A How-To Guide To Make Sense Of Ukraine's Counteroffensive
Don't believe each new twist, minute-by-minute, as information is a weapon that both sides handle carefully. But there are ways to begin to see how this possibly decisive battle will turn out.
PARIS – There are two pitfalls to avoid while following what is happening in Ukraine and the ongoing counter-offensive, which is arguably the most serious and decisive moment of the conflict since Russia's initial failures last year.
The first is wanting to follow this offensive minute-by-minute. Information is a weapon that both sides handle carefully. Assessments on such an offensive can not be made in a few hours, but rather over weeks, perhaps months — and fragments of information only reveal a part of the reality.
By the end of last week, Russian forces had released videos of brand-new Ukrainian equipment, supplied by American, German and French allies, which had been destroyed in the early hours of the offensive. Pro-war Russian bloggers were euphoric and suggested depositing the wreckage in front of those countries' embassies in Moscow.
But these Ukrainian losses were to be expected at the beginning of the anticipated assault. It doesn't tell us anything about what will come next. And this weekend, Ukraine, in turn, released videos of destroyed Russian armored vehicles. They even performed the traditional raising of the Ukrainian flag, in the first village recaptured since the start of the offensive. It doesn't reveal much about the course of the war, but it provides some moral support.
The real risk for Ukraine would be to achieve some military successes, but not enough to change the situation.
The second pitfall is only focussing on the military. It is undoubtedly crucial to analyze how the Ukrainian army leverages Western equipment, as well as closely observe the resilience of Russian defenses to see if the generals have learned from their major failures last year. But that cannot be the sole criterion; because such an offensive, in this specific context, also has political objectives.
June 9, 2023: Volunteers rescue animals isolated by the water in the city of Kherson, Ukraine, flooded by the collapse by explosives of the Nova Kakhovka dam upstream the Dnipro river.
Celestino Arce Lavin/ZUMA
Risks for Kyiv
Ukraine must first demonstrate to its NATO allies that the massive assistance they have provided is making a difference on the ground. Information leaked from Russian sources, for example, suggests Ukrainian troops can count on a big advantage in night vision capability, thanks to Western equipment.
Ukrainian progress will affect NATO countries' motivation to continue their unprecedented effort, as well as ongoing decisions on the supply of new types of equipment, such as the F-16 aircraft, which are sorely lacking in the Ukrainian offensive today.
The real risk for Ukraine would be to achieve some military successes, but not enough to change the situation — for example, if they recover some territories captured by Russia but fail to sever the territorial continuity with Crimea.
The consequence of a limited success is that it does not give Kyiv the advantage in the balance of power that would enable it to accept negotiations. However, pressures for such negotiations will be felt in the event of a military stalemate.
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