In the Russo-Ukraine war the Russian invaders have been battering away in Bakhmut for months now, trying to capture the city. Now the Ukrainians are regaining ground on the flanks there, and their enemy may be forced to withdraw. Some are suggesting that this is the beginning of the long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive. I very much doubt it is and is much more likely to be a series of successful local counter-attacks. Most of Bakhmut still remains in Russian hands.
What we mean by a counter-offensive is a combined arms operation of war involving multiple formations and many hundreds of vehicles and aircraft. It would be designed to gain significant advantage over, if not defeat, the opposition.
Historical examples abound. Perhaps one of the best known from the Second World War might be Germany’s failed counter-offensive launched against the Allies in the Ardennes in December 1944, better know as the Battle of the Bulge..
Two things currently militate against the UkrAF moving in strength. The first is the weather and the state of the ground. The terrain will not be suitable for massed armoured manoeuvre until the middle of next month at the earliest.
The second is that the UkrAF still don’t have the right kit in sufficient quantities. Zelensky is on record saying that to attack before more equipment arrives far too costly in Ukrainian casualties, there have been too many already.
The Russians have clearly transitioned from the offensive to the defensive. They are only too aware of what is coming and have been preparing defensive lines in depth for months now.
What they do not know is where the Ukrainian main blow will fall. Everyone has been second-guessing this for ages, but only the Ukrainian commanders will know for sure, and then only when they need to.
When the counter-offensive does begin we’ll not have any doubts that it’s happening. It will be of a scale and expanse that will likely surpass anything that the UkrAF have attempted to date.
Britain’s recent donations of Storm Shadow missiles and long-range drones, promised by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during Zelensky’s visit to Chequers, will undoubtedly help shape the battlefield. But in the end it is up to the Ukrainians to get up close and personal with their Russian enemies and take back their territory. That will be a bloody slog when it comes.
In the meantime all we can do is watch and wait. But I don’t think we’ll be waiting too long.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
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