It has now been around a month since the Ukrainian General Staff announced the start of a large-scale counter-offensive in the Cherson region. This was preceded by a corresponding order from President Volodymyr Zelenskyj. The government called on citizens of the Russian-controlled city of Kherson to flee. If not otherwise possible, even in Moscow-held territory further east.
The announcement of the offensive came as no surprise: Russia is preparing pseudo-referendums for an annexation in the occupied territories. In addition, the Russian troops are continuously expanding their defensive positions. The later Kyiv reacts, the more difficult the recapture could become.
And last but not least: The West is also waiting for Ukraine to succeed; quasi-proof that it can actually reconquer lost land – and that against the background of an energy crisis in Europe that was getting worse towards the winter.
But those who speculated at the time on quick and large-scale land gains by the Ukrainians must now see themselves disappointed. Kiev’s troops are advancing, but only very slowly. Their land gains are comparable to the sluggish advances of Russian troops during the Donbass offensive.
After the grandiose announcements from Kyiv, Russia has also sent large contingents of troops to the south. Some observers assume that half of all Russian associations in Ukraine are now in the south. But if you want to conquer areas quickly and with as little loss as possible, you really don’t want to fight more soldiers, you want fewer.
Just hot air from Kyiv, then? Probably not, because that would not fit in with the previous, very concentrated and tactical approach of the Ukrainian armed forces. Experts believe there is a plan behind the delay. The military historian Phillips O’Brien even speaks of a feint on Twitter. But with what goal?
There are three possible explanations:
But whatever the specific goal of the Ukrainian leadership with the announcement of the offensive, which did not come, the war has already changed.
Since the military leadership in the Kremlin has moved thousands of troops south, advances in other parts of the front have almost come to a standstill. Only in one place in the south of the Donbass are Russian troops still advancing. According to reports, the Ukrainians have already had their first successes with counterattacks in the region around Izyum, which is central to Russian supplies to northern Donbass.
So Ukraine dictates how and where Russia concentrates its forces, how and where to fight. Kyiv is once again in control of trade.
Experts see this as the beginning of the third phase of the war. In the Donbass – in the second phase – Russia dictated the progress and place of the battle. The first phase was mainly marked by the struggle for Kyiv.
Perhaps it is the case at the moment, as it has often been in this war: the Ukrainians are making a virtue out of necessity.
Experts agree that Kiev’s troops lack both the weapons and the soldiers for a large-scale, complex offensive in the south. The aim would then be to weaken and wear down the Russian troops until they either withdraw or surrender of their own accord. This can work better in the south than in the north or east.
Another statement by General Marchenko suggests that, from the Ukrainians’ point of view, this process could not last too long: “I would like to tell the people in Cherson that they should be patient for a while. It won’t take as long as everyone expects. At a certain point it will be very quick.”