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Title: The Hard Reality: Ukraine’s Last-Gasp Offensive Has Failed
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URL Source: https://www.19fortyfive.com/2023/08 ... ast-gasp-offensive-has-failed/
Published: Aug 17, 2023
Author: Daniel Davis
Post Date: 2023-08-17 10:22:56 by Ada
Keywords: None
Views: 60

The cold, hard truth in the war between Russia and Ukraine today is that Ukraine’s last-gasp offensive has failed, and no amount of spin will change the outcome.

Key Point: The cold, hard truth in the war between Russia and Ukraine today is that Kyiv’s last-gasp offensive has failed, and no amount of spin will change the outcome.

As Part 1 of this series examining the past performance and current capacity of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) detailed, Kyiv’s troops in 2022 achieved some exceptional and major battlefield successes. Hope was high heading into 2023 that these wins would pave the way to ultimate victory in the war. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian senior leadership suffered from a combination of bad decisions, an overestimation of their own capacity, and – sadly – an overestimation of the efficacy of Western military gear.

As early as January 2023, Western media sources began talking about a Ukrainian “spring offensive.” At that time, the Russians had been badly mauled during battles over Ukraine’s Kharkiv and Kherson. Moscow was four months into its partial mobilization of 300,000 troops – but had stumbled badly at the outset in processing the new conscripts – and unconfirmed reports claimed that up to 700,000 young Russian men fled the country to avoid having to fight. Ukrainian morale was sky-high and Russian motivation was in the toilet.

While the quality of the early Russian conscripts was clearly lacking, as early as November the Kremlin plugged more than tens of thousands of them into the gaping holes created by Ukraine’s autumn offensive, which helped stem the tide. By January Putin increased the offensive operations throughout the 1,000km front line to keep pressure on the UAF, with an emphasis on the twin cities of Soledar and Bakhmut. As opposed to the Russian army generally, Putin chose to give that fight to the PMC Wagner Group – and it was here that Ukraine made its first major mistake of 2023.

Double Disaster at Bakhmut for Ukraine and Russia Bakhmut was a medium-sized town of about 70,000. It had some tactical significance for whoever possessed it, but by itself cannot be considered critical at even an operational level. Ukraine had held the town, but by early March, Wagner reached the eastern outskirts of the city. The military necessity for Ukraine at that time was to withdraw from Bakhmut to the next defended line to the west.

From this new position, Ukraine’s ability to defend would have been stronger and Russia’s task to attack the new Ukrainian lines more difficult because the Ukraine side would have had the high ground and open fields of fire through which Russia would have to advance, making any assault extremely difficult and costly in terms of men and equipment. But by staying in Bakhmut, the task for the Russians was much easier. Now, Russia could move to within literal meters of the Ukrainian positions within Bakhmut without being seen. The Bakhmut defenders were at a disadvantage from that point forward.

However, Zelensky chose to press the fight anyway. For months, senior U.S. leaders warned the Ukrainian president the battle was unwinnable and to move to other defensive positions. Not only did he refuse to withdraw to a superior fighting position, he ordered his men not to give up so much as a single building, forcing them to fight to the death. Month after month, Zelensky sent brigade after brigade to reinforce Bakhmut in an effort to reverse the tide.

Not only was it painfully obvious that military fundamentals made clear there was little rational hope of stopping Wagner’s drive to capture Bakhmut, but many of those brigades Zelensky sent in futile aid to help Bakhmut were also urgently needed in the upcoming spring and summer offensive. Two days after Bakhmut’s fall, Zelensky was still defiant, claiming the city had not fallen. In 2022, Zelensky’s tenacity and unwillingness to compromise resulted in blunting Russia’s invasion and then inflicting two major operational defeats.

But those successes bred hubris that in May 2023 led him to make very costly mistakes with strategic implications: not only did Ukraine spend irreplaceable resources on defending a strategically inconsequential city, but they also lost critically important brigades for their long- shot offensive that was to come. Unfortunately, once the offensive was launched in June, the mistakes continued.

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