After Ukraine made only very small advances for a long time, larger Ukrainian formations are now being deployed again east of Robotyne, in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The armed forces are making progress, but have not yet broken through the main lines of Russian defenses.
Ukraine continues to suffer heavy losses in its advances in the flat, heavily mined terrain, primarily from Russian artillery and rocket artillery.
This analysis incorporates findings from the author’s visits to the southern front in July 2023. The material here is based on that, but is time-delayed and omits precise locations and details of troop movements.
South of Velika Novosilka — 55 miles northeast of Robotyne — Ukrainian forces have recaptured the village of Staromajorske, meaning that since the beginning of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in early June, Ukrainian forces drove about 12km (about 7.5 miles) into Russia’s prepared defenses on that axis.
Ahead of it, the Ukrainian army can see enticing objectives — it is 40km from Staromajorske to the strategically important (and only) railroad line for Russian forces in the southern corridor and 115km to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. Reaching that objective would mark a very significant victory in the war to evict the Russian army.
In addition to the counteroffensive in the south, Ukraine continues its local counterattack near Bakhmut in the east. Ukrainian forces have driven the Russians back and reached the village of Andriivka, south of Bakhmut, on the railroad line to Horlivka.
Russia has meanwhile launched an attack designed to draw Ukrainian forces from elsewhere, in the northeast from Kreminna toward Zaritchne-Lyman, where it advanced 5-6km. It is possible that Ukraine will retreat here to the western bank of the Scherebez River in the medium term.
In southern Ukraine, extensive and well-managed Russian minefields continue to be the biggest obstacle to the Ukrainian offensive. Mines are constantly being re-laid with mortars as Ukraine removes or detonates others. It sappers, moving forward in small groups, are particular targets for the Russian defenders.
Mine removal in flat, open terrain with wide visibility and under constant surveillance by many Russian drones is difficult and dangerous. Russia has more drones and seems better able to use them. Ukraine’s previous advantage in drones is diminishing, in part because powerful Russian electronic warfare is becoming more effective against Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs.)
On the plus side, newly delivered US cluster munitions put Ukraine in a recognizably better position against the Russian defenses. The new Ukrainian advances in southern Ukraine and south of Bakhmut have been aided by the use of these munitions.
The protracted and arduous fight against Russian artillery in recent weeks has reduced the Russians’ traditional superiority in artillery, and so improved battlefield conditions.
So too have Ukraine’s systematic strikes on Russian logistics, command, control, and communications in the rear. Meanwhile, Ukraine appears to have achieved a Franco-British agreement to lift restrictions on the use of Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG cruise missiles, allowing important strikes against large ammunition depots in Crimea.
Russia fires mortars, artillery, and drones indiscriminately into Ukrainian cities and settlements near the front lines, e.g., from Enerhodar toward Nikopol, and from Russia into the Sumy region, for training purposes.
Ukraine needs more technology to remove and detonate mines. It may need entirely novel solutions for huge, managed minefields, which urgently need to be thought about by Western militaries as well.
In addition, Ukraine continues to need more artillery ammunition and support for ammunition logistics, even though it is now able to gradually build up its own production capacity for 155mm caliber rounds. The EU has produced a paper on the issue since March, but unfortunately no ammunition yet.
EU and member states should think about increasingly producing ammunition, spare parts, and technology directly in Ukraine, or scaling up existing production there. Ukraine is creating the conditions for this.
Ukraine is rapidly expanding its own drone production but needs support for critical components. It also needs more drone defense systems and better electronic warfare to counter Russian UAVs.
Ukraine further needs more air defense systems and guided missiles. It is possible that the MIM-23 Hawk systems repurchased by the US from Taiwan might improve the situation on the front lines in this regard.
A steady supply of accurate long-range weapons and ammunition is particularly important. In addition to Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG, Germany should finally send Taurus cruise missiles, and the US dispatch ATACMS.
Ukraine still needs multi-role combat aircraft as soon as possible, and the planned delivery of F-16s should be accelerated to the maximum extent.
And: In Ukraine, many schools, if they have bunkers, want to resume operation in September after an extended period of online schooling. However, the school buses are now in military use. Ukraine needs replacements.
The country has significant resources that have not yet been used in the counteroffensive. Breakthroughs and a transition to movement warfare remain possible. Although the first weeks of the counteroffensive have been terribly slow, the pace now seems to be accelerating somewhat
The situation could change more rapidly if Ukraine brings either Russia’s sole rail line in the southern corridor and/or the approaches to Crimea within range of its precision weapons.
Regardless, long-term, systematic, and industrially backed support is needed.
Nico Lange was Chief of the Executive Staff of the Federal Ministry of Defense until January 2022. Prior to that, Lange served in Ukraine and Russia. firstname.lastname@example.org
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.