After months of buildup and preparation, Ukraine launched counteroffensives this week in the south and east in a bid to reverse Russian gains. While initial attacks have secured some territorial gains, Ukrainian and US officials warn the hardest fighting is still ahead.

Ukraine’s forces have advanced up to a mile in some areas of the Kherson and Donetsk regions, according to Ukrainian officials. The military’s objective is to break through Russia’s heavily fortified lines and cut off land routes linking Russia to Crimea.

“These are still tactical gains,” said Lieutenant General Stephen Twitty (Ret.), the former deputy commander of US European Command. He told CEPA that Ukrainian forces are probing Russian defenses to identify weaknesses and then exploiting them.

“The breaks in the main defensive belt will be Ukraine’s hardest fight,” Gen. Twitty said. Russian forces have had months to fortify positions in key areas like Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk. But Gen. Twitty praised Ukraine’s resilience, saying Western officials should not underestimate Ukrainian forces’ ability to retake Crimea if given the needed support.

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“The will of the Ukrainian soldier will be the main factor that determines success,” he said. But Western aid will be critical to sustain Ukraine’s offensives, including supplying armor, ammunition, training, and potentially air power like F-16s.

Ukraine faces many challenges. Russian forces still outnumber Ukraine’s in the Donbas and hold frontline advantages. Moscow has additionally mined the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, raising risks of catastrophe. The plant needs a demilitarized buffer zone, Gen. Twitty said.

The general believes Ukraine’s path to ending the war is either decisive military gains that give it leverage at the negotiating table, or a negotiated settlement. However, he warned fighting could drag on for months or years.

For now, Ukraine’s counteroffensives are picking up steam, but progress will be slow and uneven against a formidable foe. With sufficient Western backing and military gains that break Russia’s defensive lines, Ukraine hopes to turn tactical victories into strategic ones.