- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Ukraine‘s military may not have turned the tide in its 6-month-old war to repel a massive Russian invasion force, but it might have at least turned a corner on the battlefield.

After months of defending major cities from attacks and ceding ground to Russia in the south and east, Ukrainians are taking the fight to the enemy, officials said. They have launched assaults in recent days along the front lines in the occupied Kherson region in what analysts say may be the beginning of a counteroffensive in the south. 

Ukrainian military units on Monday began increasing the number of artillery strikes at Russian positions. The long-range precision strikes, using weapons such as the U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), are disrupting crucial Russian resupply efforts.

“It is not yet possible to confirm the extent of the Ukrainian advances,” British military intelligence officials said. “However, since the start of August, Russia has made significant efforts to reinforce its force on the western bank of the Dnipro River around Kherson.”

In its daily summary of the fighting, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War noted that even some Russian military blogs are discussing Ukrainian advances along the southern end of the crescent of territory now in Moscow’s control, although a clear picture of the state of fighting is impossible to confirm.

“Ukrainian officials did not confirm liberating any settlements, but some Russian milbloggers and unnamed sources speaking with Western outlets stated that Ukrainian forces liberated several settlements west and northwest of Kherson City, near the Ukrainian bridgehead over the Inhulets River, and south of the Kherson-Dnipropetrovsk Oblast border,” the think tank wrote. 

Russia implicitly acknowledged the Ukrainian advances in its official press but said the attackers have been turned back with heavy losses. According to the state-owned Tass news agency, Ukraine lost more than 1,200 soldiers with almost 100 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles on the first day of the offensive. The figures could not be independently verified.

On Monday, a senior military official in the Pentagon confirmed an increase in Ukrainian artillery fire. 

John Hardie, a senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said it certainly appears Ukraine has taken the offensive in an area west of the Dnipro River. Previously, Ukrainian forces stubbornly ceded small amounts of territory across the disputed Donbas region, and Russia was playing up moves to annex parts of its neighbor through local referendums in captured territory.

“What exactly is happening isn’t clear. Kyiv is playing its card very close to its chest, and there are a lot of unverified claims flying about,” Mr. Hardie told The Washington Times. He was “reasonably confident” to say Ukraine may have regained ground lost to Russia after its invasion more than six months ago.

Ukraine is probably attacking in other directions as well, but it’s difficult to say precisely where and with what,” Mr. Hardie said.

While recognizing the psychological impact of a counteroffensive, even Ukrainian officials in Kyiv are cautious about getting hopes up for a population badly disrupted by six months of brutal warfare.

Oleksiy Arestovych, a senior government adviser in Kyiv, said on the messaging service Telegram that Ukrainian troops had pierced Russian defenses in several areas along the front around Kherson, but he cautioned against a quick victory.

The attack was a “slow operation to grind the enemy,” he said. “Of course, many would like a large-scale offensive with news about the capture by our military of a settlement in an hour, but we don’t fight like that. … Funds are limited.”

Prime target

Kherson was the first major Ukrainian city to fall after Russian troops advanced into the city from the Crimean Peninsula during the earliest days of the war.

In his address to the nation on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Russian soldiers to leave his country and return to Moscow. He broadly suggested that Ukraine’s forces were counterattacking.

“If they want to survive, it is time for the Russian military to flee. Go home,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “If they do not listen to me, they will deal with our defenders, who will not stop until they liberate everything that belongs to Ukraine.

“Anyone wants to know what our plans are? You won’t hear specifics from any truly responsible person because this is war,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “But the occupiers should know: We will oust them to the border.”

A senior military official in the Pentagon confirmed that Ukraine was ramping up the number and severity of attacks against Russia.

“They have been making up some small advances in and around the Kherson pocket for a while,” the Pentagon official told reporters. “I don’t want to mislead you here and tell you that I don’t think the offensive is underway.”

British intelligence officials said Russian military leaders have combined forces from two field armies — the 49th Combined Army and the 35th Combined Army — to help commanders prepare for Ukraine’s expected counteroffensive.

Timing is also of the essence. Winter is likely to make large operations much more difficult, and Mr. Putin has announced another major call-up of draftees for next year to fill the depleted Russian ranks along the front lines.

“Most of the [Russian] units around Kherson are likely undermanned and are reliant upon fragile supply lines by ferry and pontoon bridges across the Dnipro,” British officials said in a Twitter post. “If Ukraine succeeds in undertaking sustained offensive operations, the cohesion of this untested structure will likely be a key factor in the sustainability of Russian defenses in the south.”

Ukraine’s counteroffensive began even as technical experts with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, prepared for their trip to Ukraine to check on the status of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest atomic facility in Europe. 

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said shelling struck critical offices about 100 yards from the reactor building. Their planned mission is intended to assess the physical damage to the facilities and determine whether safety and security concerns were addressed.

Mr. Zelenskyy said Ukraine will even find a place for Russian soldiers who don’t want to go back home. “Let such occupiers surrender, and we will guarantee them compliance with all norms of the Geneva Conventions,” he said.

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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