Ukrainian Forces Are Advancing In Southern Ukraine

Business

Just a day after liberating Lyman, a key supply hub for Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian forces are on the move in the south, too. As in Lyman, Russian troops increasingly are cut off from resupply—and in acute danger of encirclement.

With each successive phase of their twin counteroffensives that kicked off in the south and east a month ago, the Ukrainians are refining a strategy for defeating a Russian army that, on paper, is bigger along many sectors of the front.

That strategy requires patience, discipline and precision, three qualities that have come to define Ukrainian operations as Russia’s wider war on Ukraine grinds into its eighth month.

The Ukrainians first use long-range rockets to sever Russian supply lines and disrupt command, then probe Russian defenses for weak spots before exploiting these weaknesses and penetrating into the Russians’ rear areas, triggering a rout that ends with the Russians retreating from huge swathes of territory and abandoning enormous quantities of usable equipment.

Ukraine’s Operational Command South began its counterlogistics campaign back in May, shortly after receiving new American-made howitzers and wheeled High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. For more than three months, the Ukrainians targeted bridges, railways, supply dumps and command centers in and around Kherson, a strategic Black Sea port anchoring Russian-occupied Kherson Oblast between the Inhulets and Dnipro Rivers.

Advertisement

The Russian 49th Combined Arms Army in Kherson began to buckle. Desperate to hold the oblast—and, indeed, eventually annex it into Russia proper—the Kremlin rushed reinforcements from the east to the south. That thinned out Russian defenses east of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.

In the final days of August and the first days of September, the Ukrainians took advantage of the Russian army’s imbalance. Ukrainian brigades attacked east from Kharkiv and south toward Kherson. The eastern counterattack quickly liberated more than a thousand square miles of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region and set conditions for Ukrainian forces to advance into the separatist Luhansk Oblast.

The southern counteroffensive was slower and more costly for Ukraine—and it’s obvious why. “Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson,” the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C. explained. Russian president Vladimir Putin “is deprioritizing defending Luhansk Oblast in favor of holding occupied territories in southern Ukraine.”

Southern Ukraine is flat, largely treeless and crisscrossed with water obstacles. It’s unhappy terrain for any attacker. The drumbeat of Ukrainian losses in the south—scores of trucks, fighting vehicles and tanks and even a priceless Su-24 bomber—underscored the intensity of the fighting.

But the Russians appeared to be losing more people and equipment than the Ukrainians were losing. And, perhaps more importantly, Ukrainian supply lines in the south were intact while Russian supply lines were fraying under relentless attacks by Ukrainian rocketeers and gunners.

It took longer for Ukrainian forces to break through Russian lines in the south than in the east. That breakthrough reportedly occurred on Sunday. Videos from the front confirm Ukrainian troops rolling into Zolota Balka and Khreshchenivka, along the right bank of the three-mile-wide Dnipro River. There were reports the Ukrainians had reached as far as Dudchany and were driving Russian troops to Beryslav.

If confirmed, that means the Ukrainians have penetrated as deep as 15 miles into territory the Russians still held as recently as last week. Worse for the Russians, the Ukrainians are in a position to surround Russian units on the western side of the Dnipro, eventually trapping them between Ukrainian positions and the wide river. “Not a good place for the [Russians] to be,” mused Mark Hertling, a retired U.S. Army general.

Envelopment leads to disaster for the enveloped forces. Consider what happened in Lyman last week. Ukrainian brigades surrounded the city from three directions. By the time the Russian garrison in Lyman retreated, it had just one way out—along a narrow road heading east. But the road was within range of Ukrainian guns. There’s ample evidence the Russians suffered heavy casualties during the evacuation.

Whether the Russian army suffers a similar disaster in the south depends on how much combat power the Ukrainian Operational Command South has in reserve, whether the Russians have any reserve of their own in the area and whether Putin will allow commanders in the south to retreat before the situation becomes untenable.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.