Zelensky gave signals that Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia had begun. This is what is expected

(CNN) — In a few words, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave the clearest signal yet that his forces have begun their long-awaited campaign to retake swaths of territory seized by Russian forces.

The president said “significant counter-offensive defensive actions are taking place in Ukraine”, but did not give details.

There has long been speculation about the possibility of a Ukrainian counter-offensive, not least because the Ukrainian authorities have talked about it.

But the idea of ​​a counter-offensive can be misleading, since it gives the impression that there was a discrete before and after of the campaign.

In reality, Ukraine has softened to Russian forces for months and is already making efforts to regain territory. Moreover, as the Ukrainians are keen to point out, the actions of their armed forces are responding to an invasion.

That’s why Ukrainian officials like to point out – as Zelensky did with his cautious wording on Saturday – that all of their actions should be seen as defensive.

Despite everything, the conflict enters a new phase, which can decide its final outcome. Here are some of the factors at play.

look south

Unlike the first fluid months of the conflict, when Russia tried to seize the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and other major cities, the front line in Ukraine is now to the south and east.

It also means, as Ukrainian officials acknowledge, that the new campaign will not have the element of surprise, as it did in the assault on the Kharkiv region last September.

After retaking Kharkiv and Kherson, the southern region of Zaporizhia will probably be the main target of the Ukrainian army. This month, it has intensified its activities in the region.

Advances by Ukrainian forces in Zaporizhia could deal a severe blow to the entire Russian campaign. Breaking the Russian land corridor from occupied Donbass to Crimea, illegally annexed in 2014, is seen as a primary goal for Ukraine.

As for its objectives, kyiv has always declared that it wants to take back all the territory under Russian control.

In a speech earlier this year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that included Crimea.

“It’s not an intention, it’s our land. Crimea is our sea and our mountains,” Zelensky said.

Whether this goal is achievable remains a big unknown.

Russia entrenched, but vulnerable

Russia had long expected a Ukrainian counteroffensive, giving Putin’s army several months to prepare the ground and build an elaborate defensive arsenal.

Satellite images show the extent of the Russian fortification. These include layers of anti-tank trenches, obstacles, minefields and trenches.

These defenses stretch for hundreds of kilometers along the entire winding front. Crossing them will be difficult.

Ukrainian officials frequently tell residents of occupied areas, such as Mariupol and Berdyansk, of the passage of long Russian convoys and the appropriation of dozens of buildings as military accommodation.

Ukraine conducts so-called installation operations to lay the groundwork for its offensive by disrupting Russian supply lines, destroying ammunition depots and attacking fuel infrastructure.

In addition, Russian infighting has been reported for some time, with particular friction between the Wagner mercenary group and the Kremlin military leadership.

Russia’s small accomplishments, especially compared to Putin’s ambitious initial goals in the war, have come at a heavy cost, decimating front-line units and robbing much manpower and all-important experience. crucial.

Bakhmut is still in play

Although Wagner claimed victory in the eastern town of Bakhmut and returned it to Russian forces, the town remained a flashpoint.

The fall of the city was a rare gain for Russia, but Ukrainian forces have recently claimed limited progress in reclaiming land to the northwest and southwest.

Ukrainian forces attack the Russians near Bakhmut.

Ukraine may be using the city to weaken Russia elsewhere by diverting its resources, which may also have been targeted by Russian dissident fighters attacking their home country.

Although there are no official figures, it is clear that the capture of Bakhmut cost Russia dearly.

NATO intelligence estimates that for every Ukrainian soldier killed defending Bakhmut, Russian forces lost at least five.

Ukraine has new weapons

Ukraine improved its armament before the counter-offensive.

The UK has delivered several “Storm Shadow” cruise missiles to Ukraine, giving the country a new long-range strike capability.

With a range of more than 250 km (155 miles), it falls short of the 300 km (185 miles) capability of the US Army’s Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, which Ukraine has long demanded. .

These weapons can change the course of the war in Ukraine 2:42

Ukraine has also received at least two Patriot systems, one from the United States and the other from Germany, to improve its air defenses, which have so far been unable to intercept the latest Russian missiles.

In proof of its newfound prowess, last month Ukraine used an American-made Patriot air defense system for the first time to intercept a Russian hypersonic missile, marking a potentially pivotal moment in the conflict.

In addition to military equipment, the United States announced $1.2 billion in aid to Ukraine to support the launch of its counteroffensive.

time passes

A question mark hangs over the duration of international support for Ukraine.

Ahead of next year’s US election, comments by former President Donald Trump in a CNN forum raise the possibility that America’s hitherto staunch support for Ukraine could come to an end .

At the forum, Trump declined to say who he wanted to win the dispute, saying instead that he wanted “everyone to stop dying.”

The longer the war lasts, the more divisions among Ukraine’s allies are likely to grow, which will work in favor of Russia.

If the war ends in negotiations or a draw, Ukraine will want to have an advantage. He will try to make the best possible use of the counter-offensive, and quickly.

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