The Second Ukrainian Counteroffensive: How Will It Turn Out?

Protest in Ukraine, with people holding up Ukrainian flags
Mike Wong

Recently, there has been much talk of how the Ukrainian Counteroffensive in 2023 would play out. Some have speculated that it will be a complete victory and grand success for Ukraine, whilst some have expressed skepticism and hesitation in Ukraine being able to successfully counterattack and defeat the Russian occupying forces. Mike Wong discusses these opposing views in the context of recent events.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive in 2022 was widely seen as a massive success for Ukraine. They had rapidly liberated most of the Kharkiv oblast from Russian occupation – except for Tavilzhanka, a Ukrainian village in the Kharkiv oblast and close to the Northern area of the Luhansk oblast, still occupied by Russian forces. Ukraine’s lightning successes in Kharkiv pushed the Russian Federation to introduce partial mobilisation, and announce annexation referendums in the occupied areas of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (that was recognised as independent by Russia) and two of its allies, Syria and North Korea.

The annexation ‘referendums’ were widely seen as illegal, as the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on 12th October 2022, which officially condemned Russia’s annexation referendums in Ukraine. Ukraine also launched a counteroffensive operation in Kherson, although it wasn’t as quick and easy, considering that the terrain of Kherson was more open and flatter, compared to the marshy, forest focused terrain of Kharkiv.

Nevertheless, Russia was forced to leave the areas West of the Dnipro River, liberating the capital city of Kherson to Ukrainian forces.

At the same time, in the period from January and April, despite tiny advances from the Russian forces in Donetsk, particularly around Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops were undergoing training in Western countries. This was primarily on how to operate German Leopard Tanks that Germany approved to delivering to Ukraine. Ukraine also received air-defence systems – particularly US Patriot – to train Ukrainian troops on them, and train Ukrainian infantry with NATO military standards and military tactics.

Ukraine was going to counterattack soon, but they didn’t know when and where

This led to a gradual build-up of fresh Ukrainian reinforcements and new military units, supplied by NATO countries, which led to fresh speculation of a future Ukrainian counterattack. This was not only advertised in Western countries, but also parroted by Russia and Ukraine, on the fact that Ukraine was going to counterattack soon, but they didn’t know when and where.

Most speculation on the large Ukrainian counterattack was directed towards Ukraine attacking in the Zaporizhzhia oblast. Although, some believe instead, that Ukraine would launch a large offensive in Northern Luhansk. This is since Ukraine was known for unpredictability, as they were parroting previously of attacking Kherson quickly but launched a lightning offensive in Kharkiv, to “exploit other weaknesses”, according to TIME magazine.

Nevertheless, many believed (including Russia) that Ukraine would be most likely to attack in the Zaporizhzhia oblast. For instance, the Russian installed leader of Zaporizhzhia oblast, Yevhen Balitsky, told Russian state-media that the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), were building up troops in Zaporizhzhia, and increased strikes on Melitopol. This was backed up by Vladimir Rogov – Chairman of the “We are together with Russia” – who said that Ukraine was striking Melitopol more frequently.

This is also evident with Russian forces building fortifications in Zaporizhzhia, with some defenses in Northern Luhansk in case Ukraine decides to launch a surprise attack.

However, some have already speculated that Ukraine was gearing up for an early counterattack. Just recently, Ukraine made successful naval landings in Southern Kherson, as they established a bridgehead in Kherson, and not a land invasion, due to Russia blowing up the Antonivka bridge.

The US believed that Ukraine would “fall short”

It also was backed up by suspected Ukrainian strikes on Russian military targets deep inside Russia, particularly around Dyagilevo and Engels airfield and the Russian Ryazan oblast. There have been concerns, according to US intel leaks, that Ukraine may not be successful on the battlefield. The Washington Post, for instance, reported that the according to leaked documents, the US believed that Ukraine would “fall short”,  contributing to a Ukrainian defeat, and jeopardising continued Western support for Ukraine.

It should also be noted that there was growing opposition reluctance to sending weapons to Ukraine from countries such as Germany, where there was massive resistance to sending anything more, after Germany agreed to provide Leopard Tanks to Ukraine. 

In conclusion, the Ukrainian counteroffensive of 2023 hasn’t happened yet as of 27th April, since the US intel leaks, for instance, revealed plans of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which may have forced Ukraine to postpone the date or change their plans. 

This was done to protect Ukraine’s operational security and avoid having their battle plans revealed to the Russian military. Also, it is unknown if they are going to be successful on the battlefield when they launch a counterattack. This is as despite massive Russian casualties for incremental gains in Bakhmut, the Russian Federation signed a new conscription law, issuing electronic notices to Russian citizens to join the Russian military.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen on how the counteroffensive would play out, and whether Ukraine would win or get bogged down into another military stalemate.

Mike Wong

Featured image courtesy of Markus Spiske on Pexels. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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