The Ukrainian army slowly but inexorably recovered the occupied territories. In two weeks, they have retaken seven towns and nearly 35 square miles. So far, they have done this without using a ton of NATO weapons. Is working. But what is the strategy?
The answer is that Kyiv is in no hurry.
In each attack so far, the Ukrainian forces have been judicious in the number of tanks and troops they have launched.
George Barros of the Institute for the Study of War in the United States calls it a “missile game.” The Ukrainians are using surprise and deception to get the Russians to defend one area, leaving another open.
A member of the Ukrainian General Staff even compared it to a game of chess, in which you try to attract the enemy and his reinforcements. A retired US general, Ben Hodges, believes the Ukrainians are still weighing things up. “The attack has definitely started, but the main event hasn’t,” he wrote in an article for the Center for European Policy Analysis.
The fact that Ukraine is not using a lot of US and European weapons seems to confirm Hodges’ analysis. Ukraine has brought out the German Leopard-2 tank, some US troop transports, and some other mine-resistant vehicles. But only a few.
There are videos of Russian drones circulating on the internet that supposedly show some that have been abandoned. But other than that, there’s no real indication that many Western weapons are being used. And these would be crucial for a major offensive.
No one has seen the British Challenger-2 tank, the Swedish-made CV9040 infantry fighting vehicle, or the American Stryker armored vehicle. And we haven’t seen the German Marder infantry fighting vehicle or the Gepard anti-aircraft tank either.
These NATO vehicles would be very useful. If they had used the CV9040, the Stryker, the Marder and the Gepard, they could have avoided or at least reduced last week’s losses.
These vehicles come with all sorts of useful sensors, optics, and targeting equipment. They have thermal cameras and air defense radars. And tanks are not old news. They continue to play an important role in combined warfare that includes infantry, artillery, air defense, and air forces. When everyone works together, tanks don’t just add more firepower. They are also key tools to break through enemy lines.
So why is Kyiv being lenient with NATO weapons and not flexing all its military muscle?
Stefan Korshak, a military expert quoted in the “Kyiv Post,” explained that Kyiv’s top brass have been playing the long game, slowly wearing down the Russian forces. “They are looking to gradually gain ground, avoid big risks and keep Ukrainian losses as low as possible,” he said.
That makes sense, considering the critical point of the war that Ukraine finds itself at. Andrij Sybiha himself, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, said it three months ago: “The extent of Western support depends on our success. The more ground we gain on the battlefield, the more help we will receive from our partners.”
Going all in on a massive attack and possibly failing seems like a risky move. So it seems that the Ukrainian General Staff is taking it easy, launching attacks with relatively small units and limited equipment.
And so far, this approach seems to be working. Ukraine is advancing at six points along a 600-mile front, from Zaporizhzhia in the south to Lyssychansk in the Donbas. Each extra square mile of recovered ground forces the Russian enemy to secure the affected area with more troops.
Ukrainians know what they are doing. During the last 16 months of the war, they managed to inflict maximum damage on the Russian army with minimal resources. Once they’ve worn them down – which will take some time – they could deliver the “sledgehammer,” the “big surprise” that so many observers expect.
Ukraine continues to have plenty of firepower. They have used only a small fraction of their available forces for the counteroffensive, as confirmed by a report from the Institute for the Study of War.
Experts estimate that Ukraine has about 35 brigades ready for the offensive. Of these, 13 are attack brigades (each with about 3,500 men), and ten of them received their training in Europe and are equipped with NATO weapons. This includes 200 tanks, 152 artillery guns and some 867 armored personnel carriers and combat vehicles.
“If we see two or three of these brigades (about 500-750 armored vehicles) on a narrow front, we can say that the main attack has probably started,” retired US General Hodges wrote. But even then, he believes caution is necessary because the Ukrainian General Staff is likely to keep the Russians in the dark about the site of the main attack for as long as possible.
So is this counter-offensive a game of cat and mouse? An element of surprise would fit well with that. Like the momentum that Ukraine was able to create in Kharkiv. Nobody really knows what Kyiv is planning. Perhaps Washington will finally give the green light to the use of the ATACMS long-range missiles that are said to be already stored in Ukrainian warehouses.
Who knows? We could see F-16 fighter jets taking off in the Ukraine within a month or two. Two of these US plans have already made a cameo appearance in a video produced by the Ukrainian forces for their offensive.