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The Counter-Offensive

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By Viewsridge – Own work, derivate of Russo-Ukraine Conflict (2014-2021).svg by Rr016Missile attacks source:BNO NewsTerritorial control sources:Template:Russo-Ukrainian War detailed map / Template:Russo-Ukrainian War detailed relief mapISW, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=115506141

I have been hesitant to write about the success of Ukraine’s counter-offensive around Kherson and Kharkiv because the information sources are very jumbled and because it’s always difficult to assess what’s going on in a major military operation in the first hours and days. However, at this point there is apparently some grounds for optimism. Dan Parsons:

Ukraine’s multipronged offensive that kicked off about a week ago has punched miles into Russian-occupied territory in multiple sectors, with dozens of towns recaptured, scores of prisoners taken, and many pieces of abandoned equipment seized.

Brig. Gen. Oleksyi Hromov, Deputy Chief of the Main Operations Department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Thursday that Ukrainian forces had pierced Russian lines around Kharkiv in the north and pressed more than 30 miles beyond. In a matter of a few days, they have liberated at least 20 settlements, Hromov told the Kyiv Independent news service. Anton Gerashcenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, also confirmed the progress on Sept. 8.

The offensive near Kharkiv seems to have been well-planned and resourced, and also seems to have taken the Russians completely off guard. There continue to be serious communications and logistical issues that are at least partially driven by Ukrainian use of HIMARS. There are also reports of significant numbers of prisoners, and of Russian forces that are refusing to fight. Operationally, there seems to be some chance to create a major pocket around Izyum:

This would be a big deal; the optics of letting a pocket of 20000 soldiers wither on the vine aren’t any better now than they were in 1942, and it’s unclear that the Russians have the metal at the moment to break a Ukrainian encirclement. However, it also does not seem like the Russians are yet in the mood to call for a cease-fire. That will be the first real indication of panic in Moscow over the military situation. I should hasten to add that Ukraine absolutely should NOT take the first ceasefire offer that Russia dangles, especially if it’s in a position to take more ground and inflict more damage on Russian forces. It certainly appears that there’s some unhappiness on the Russian side:

We know less about what’s happening around Kherson, which probably isn’t surprising given the concentration of Russian forces there. Michael Kofman does not think that the advance on Kherson was a feint:

All of this seems to be positive news, but keep in mind that we’re not getting the full picture. I’d worry about whether the Ukrainians are overstretching their own logistics by attacking in too many places at once, but they do enjoy interior lines of communication at this point in the conflict and that obviously matters. It’s also the case that the Russian forces apparently haven’t been doing rotations and so may well be at the point of exhaustion.

As always, follow Michael Kofman, Rob Lee, the ISW, and Mick Ryan for updates.

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