In a momentous development, the Ukrainian forces launched on 5 September a counter-attack, which has been awaited for several weeks, along the battlefront that stretches from Kharkiv in the north to Kherson in the south. After six days of fighting, the Ukrainian forces succeeded in regaining control of around 6,000 km2 of territory that was previously under the control of Russian forces, according to the statement issued by the Ukrainian President on 11 September.
The spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying the move was a redeployment of Russian troops to strengthen Russian defenses around the city of Luhansk, confirming Ukraine’s progress. Several comments and statements were then made by the Russian side, criticizing the Russian forces’ performance and demanding more forceful countermeasures and the correction of the mistakes that occurred.
It should be noted that, according to President Zelensky’s earlier statement, the Russian side controls around 20 percent of the Ukrainian territory, about 125,000 km2, of which 43,000 km2 are controlled since the 2014 war. This means that Ukraine has recovered 6,000 km2 of the 82,000 km2 that were seized by Russia since the start of the war in February. Most of the liberated territories are located in Kharkiv in the northeast of the country, adjacent to the Russian borders, and they’re home to 150,000 inhabitants, distributed among 300 towns, villages, and a large number of hamlets.
This Ukrainian victory lies not only in the area of territory that has been recovered, but in the strategic value it represents. One of the biggest Ukrainian gains was the regaining of control over the city of Kup’yans’k, which is an important logistical hub on the railway lines that transport Russian troops, weapons, and equipment, especially cannons, from the city of Belgorod in Russia to Luhansk in the Donbass region. The re-establishment of control over the city of Izyum, near Luhansk, was so morally significant that it led President Zelensky to visit it, challenging the Russian forces located a few kilometers away. This makes it a platform for Ukrainian forces to launch into Donbass territory if Kyiv decides to resume its offensive on this axis.
As for the southern city of Kherson, for the past two months, the Ukrainian leadership has been promoting its intention to launch a counter-attack against Russian troops to recover this strategic city and block any potential Russian advances towards the port of Odesa; it has been reported that 500 km2 of its surrounding territory has been surrounded. Moreover, this attack was preceded by Ukrainian forces directing several hits to the supply and logistics lines of this city, which is located on the west bank of the Dnipro river. The aim of this was to isolate the city from the Russian forces located on the east bank, which are geographically connected to the rest of the Russian-controlled territory in the east. This was done through the bombardment of bridges on this river, causing extensive damage thereby preventing any supplies from reaching the Russian forces trapped there and prompting them to surrender. Furthermore, this intense Ukrainian bombing reinforced the Russian military leadership’s belief that the main Ukrainian counter-attack would be in the south as Ukraine has promoted. This prompted Russia to move between 15,000 and 25,000 of its best forces located in the east to the south, weakening Russian defenses in the north, and opening more than one loophole to Ukrainian forces advancing in the city of Kharkiv, as mentioned above.
Much has been said concerning the reasons that explain Ukraine’s success and the unexpected withdrawal of the Russian troops, starting from the weak morale of the Russian soldiers to the lack of field commanders on the ground, and the lack of expertise and competence. But above all, Ukrainian forces are now acquiring advanced weapons from western countries – led by Washington – after a long period of hesitation and procrastination. Without going into the details of the different phases of support that this western support for Ukraine has been going through since the beginning of the war, it’s known that Kyiv has always demanded that the American side supply it with advanced weapons so that it can counter the Russian invasion, yet Washington has been reluctant to do so, because the estimates, at the time, indicated that the Russian crawl and the fall of Ukraine could not be stopped. Hence the United States’ assessment indicated the futility of providing any military support, not to mention the fear that such sophisticated weapons would fall into the hands of Russian forces. Due to the US estimates regarding the ability of the Russian forces to control Ukraine and the strength of the Ukrainian side in defending its territory being wrong, the decision-maker in Washington no longer had any excuse to prevent supplying the weapons Ukraine needs after Ukraine proved its merit and combat efficiency. Therefore, the US plan went from simply offering light defensive weapons such as anti-tank and shoulder-borne Javelin missiles, which proved very effective against Russian tanks and armored vehicles, to other types of weapons, especially after Russian forces stopped advancing and the fighting lines were stabilized in a front stretching to about 1,000 kilometers north to south in what resembles the front of the First World War. Each side has trenches behind its line of defense and artillery bombing the opposing side, but this time the missiles play this role. This required a different type of weapon that Washington wouldn’t have thought of if it didn’t want to move the fighting lines and support the Ukrainian side in defeating Russian forces in the positions around them.
Additionally, the talk was initially around Switchblade 600 unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as another type known as Kamikaze, yet the best solution was the HIMARS American rocket launchers. These have the advantage since they depend on GPS-based guided missiles to reach their targets with a very high degree of precision, as well as a range that reaches 80km, allowing them to beat their Russian counterparts. There is no doubt that these missiles are beginning to bear fruit, which the Ukrainian side has been keen to highlight in order to strengthen its case for more weapons.
Currently, the Ukrainian side, having demonstrated its success in using the weapons provided to it so that it can continue to advance, demands that it be provided with armored personnel carriers and tanks. Adding further, at the top of these demands are the German Leopard 2 Tank and the German armored personnel carrier Marder, forty of which were recently given to Greece, so that the latter can provide a similar number of old-fashioned Russian carriers that it had to the Ukrainian side. This is particularly disappointing for the Ukrainian side, especially since NATO is merely providing old Russian tanks, which were owned by some of the alliance’s former members of the Warsaw pact. This is done with the pretext of not provoking Russia and avoiding the escalation of the war, as Germany says. Although the White House announced an additional $600 million aid package last week, it does not meet Ukraine’s aspirations for the required quality of weapons.
On the other hand, western reports go so far as saying that the Russian forces’ guided missiles, which were limited in number, to begin with, are close to running out. The same reports refer to Moscow’s use of its S-300 anti-aircraft missile system and its withdrawal of some of its missile systems in Syria for use in Ukraine from time to time. Although Russia still has many unused weapons and ammunition, as well as the fact that Putin’s true intentions or his ability to accept this recent setback are unknown; will he only intensify his strikes against the Ukrainian infrastructure, or will he launch a counter-attack in the area or another area or even resort to tactical nuclear weapons, the Kremlin’s announcement that Russia is moving ahead with its plans in Ukraine does not indicate the proximity of the end of the fighting, but Putin’s determination to continue the war.
Thus, the Ukrainian victory, despite its importance, is not an overwhelming victory. Putin’s defeat is also not a sweeping defeat that forces him to accept a seat at the negotiating table. It can even be argued that another consequence of this Ukrainian victory is the cut-off of any European claims of negotiating with Russia and making concessions as some had hoped, it also means that any announced or undeclared negotiations planned by some international parties aiming to reach a political solution and halt the bleeding of this war will be postponed.