Senior Ukrainian officials have expressed concern over the long-awaited offensive to regain occupied territories in the south and east of the country.
After a failed Russian winter offensive led to a stalemate and a war of attrition, all eyes are on Ukraine to turn the tide and strike hard at depleted Russian lines.
But Ukraine’s defense minister has warned that raising expectations could lead to “emotional disappointment.”
Oleksii Reznikov said: “The expectation of our counter-offensive campaign is overestimated in the world. Most people are waiting for something big.’
Leaks from the Pentagon show that US planners doubt Ukraine’s ability to launch an attack. Some fear that a marginal victory could weaken the West’s case for sending vital munitions to Ukraine, prompting the country to negotiate surrender terms with Putin.
Zelensky summarized this last Monday in an interview with The Washington Post that ‘the more victories we have on the battlefield, frankly, the more people will believe in us, which means we’ll get more help’.
Ukrainian soldiers from the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade ‘Edelweiss’ fire a D-30 howitzer at Russian troops at a frontline position near the town of Soledar, May 6, 2023
Smoke rises from buildings in this aerial view of a Bakhmut hellscape to the east, April 26, 2023
Map shows disputed regions as of May 7, 2023 based on analysis from the Institute for the Study of War
The first Russian invasion of Ukraine last year met with limited success beyond areas close to the border in the south and east, many of which had already been established with Russian support since the 2014 invasion of Crimea.
Ukraine received massive support from the West, with the US and UK sending advanced missile systems to support counter-offensives in the north and south.
Reznikov explained last week, “We inspired everywhere because the perception was that we would fall (within) 72 hours.”
In the months that followed, Russia again expanded its objectives to recapture Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which remain contested along the front lines.
After some Russian successes, the war slowed down during the winter.
Russia prepared a dramatic offensive against Ukraine as experts warned the weather could halt the advance and freeze thousands of soldiers to death.
Gloomy images showed the realities of trench warfare as the war turned into “all-out war of attrition,” increasingly seeing the use of World War I-style “human wave” tactics.
With the direction of the war shifting again, Ukraine appears poised for a counter-offensive to recapture part of its territory.
Many of the details remain secret, but Ukraine will try to penetrate the disputed regions in the east and south that have been under artillery fire for months.
Cities like Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast have seen months of intense fighting between hostile factions, with civilian areas in between razed to the ground in the clashes.
Now that Russian lines have been reinforced by extensive trench networks and artillery support, experts say warn that it will be difficult to push the Russians back to their pre-invasion borders – when Russia controlled parts of Luhansk, Donetsk and the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula.
Pentagon documents leaked last month suggested Ukraine lacked the firepower to push through an effective offensive in the disputed regions, citing “deficiencies in troop generation and maintenance.”
The leaks predicted that Ukraine would have only modest success in achieving its objectives of severing Russia’s land link with the Crimean peninsula in the south and exploiting weaknesses to reclaim disputed territories in the east.
Despite international efforts to support Ukraine, the document warns that “persistent Ukrainian deficiencies in training and ammunition supplies are likely to hamper progress and exacerbate casualties during the offensive.”
Veterans in Ukraine would worry that new troops would arrive without proper training.
Leaks also suggested that Ukraine would run out of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles by early May, making it impossible to hold back the Russian advance.
This report was a break from President Biden’s public reassurances about Ukraine’s military successes.
A firefighter works at the site of a resort town hit by a Russian missile strike in Odessa on May 8
It was reported yesterday that Russia complied with the offensive when evacuation orders were issued to move people from 18 settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region.
Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol in Zaporizhia Oblast, said that the order had caused chaos and five-hour lines of cars at the checkpoint to Crimea.
The official warned that a humanitarian crisis was “growing” as shops stopped receiving goods, hospitals closed and threats were made to cut power and water.
Meanwhile, UN officials warned of a possible “serious nuclear accident” at the Enerhodar power plant if fighting flared up in the region.
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned that the situation is “becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”