Western officials ‘surprised’ by Ukraine’s quick gains in northern counteroffensive
Kyiv gave top US generals advance notice of the plan to launch simultaneous attacks on two fronts, according to a Ukrainian official, but both governments were shocked by the success of the counteroffensive from the north.
« Everyone was surprised at how the Russians ran, » the Ukrainian government official said on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive operation.
The northern offensive was carried out by a relatively small force – just a handful of brigades with a few thousand troops each, according to a US official and a Western diplomat. Many Russian outposts were manned by conscripts and lightly trained and armed troops from occupied areas of Ukraine who were overwhelmed by the firepower and armored vehicles of the approaching forces.
The scale and pace of the Ukrainian advance was fueled by Western arms deliveries, particularly US-supplied precision rocket launchers and artillery shells that defeated Russian forces before the ground movements and targeted their ammunition depots and command and control facilities.
The US-made counter-battery radars, which allow the Ukrainians to precisely locate and target Russian artillery pieces within minutes of their salvoes of fire, and a bag of heavily armored vehicles donated by the US , UK, Australia and others that are also essential. allowing attackers to close in on Russian forces quickly and in relative safety.
The Ukrainian push to retake ground has all but wiped out hard-won gains by Kremlin forces this spring, including the town of Izyum, which the Russians seized in April after weeks of bloody fighting.
Ukrainian forces raised the national flag above the battered city over the weekend after Russian troops fled in disarray. Ukrainian government officials estimated that 80% buildings in the town of 40,000 had been destroyed in the fighting that spring.
Many retreating Russian forces have crossed the border into Russia, a senior military official said on Monday. There have been reports of Russians abandoning military equipment, which could be indicative of Moscow’s « disorganized command and control », the official said.
The United States has long provided Ukraine with a wealth of battlefield intelligence, from satellite imagery and other sources, which Kyiv uses to make decisions about targeting and troop movements. said two US officials.
« We certainly provide them with information about the conditions, but in the end it’s a Ukrainian choice, » a senior Defense Ministry official told reporters on Monday. « The Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian political leadership made the decisions on how to carry out this counter-offensive. »
Western officials are now watching closely how far the northern offensive will go in the Donbass. The Ukrainians might be able to continue their push using new stockpiles of ammunition, vehicles and tanks that the Russians left behind as they fled using civilian vehicles and whatever else they could pile on as the rout was intensifying, the US official said.
“I would be looking to see if Ukraine can further exploit the momentum it has developed in the Donbass,” said Michael Kofman of the CNA think tank. « Russian forces are likely to try to reconstitute after the retreat and attempt localized counterattacks. »
Meanwhile, the two sides continue to clash around Kherson in the south, where Ukraine is likely to increase pressure in an attempt to cut off Russia’s land corridor from Donbass to Crimea.
“The current period is best described as a window of opportunity for Ukraine, taking the initiative not only to take territory, but also to deal blows to the Russian military from which it will find it difficult to recover during the war. ‘winter, » Kofman said.
The quick gains made by the Ukrainians come at an uncertain time for Western support. On Monday, the German government again refused to allow countries that had purchased German-made Leopard tanks to transfer them to Kyiv. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said that « no country has so far delivered Western-built infantry fighting vehicles or main battle tanks », and that Berlin « will not take such action unilaterally ».
Germany has come under heavy criticism for refusing requests from a number of countries to transfer locally produced military equipment, including howitzers and armored vehicles, to Ukraine.
In Washington, the Biden administration is grappling with the end of the fiscal year on September 30 and, with it, the need for Congress to pass a new $13.7 billion military and humanitarian aid package. for Ukraine.
The Biden administration last week announced a $675 million withdrawal of munitions and armored vehicles, and a congressional aide familiar with the issue said there will likely be another package announced as soon as this week for about 600. million more of similar equipment pulled by U.S. inventory, since DoD officials recently told Congress it would use $1.3 billion in drawdown authority in September.