Commander of Ukrainian armed forces says war to extend into 2023
KYIV – As autumn begins, Ukraine’s military is making inroads on three axes: the south, north and east to corrode Russian forces as the foe continues to engage in a war of attrition that has now entered its seventh month.
Officials in Kyiv are maintaining mostly operational silence as videos appear on social media of Ukrainian forces making advances toward occupied Kherson to push Russian soldiers toward the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
That offensive was announced on August 29 while this week Russia was hit hard near Izium in the Kharkiv region and in the Donetsk town of Sviatohirsk, as well as in the hilly area of Lysychynask in Luhansk Oblast.
“Each success of our military in one direction or another changes the general situation along the entire frontline in favor of Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel on Sep-tember 8.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Zelenskyy said the goal is to push Russia away “from Ukrainian borders,” including the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow forcibly seized in 2014.
U.S. and British officials also acknowledged the gains Ukraine is making on the conventional battlefield along the 1,250-kilometer front line.
Kyiv’s military is making “slow but significant progress” on the battlefield, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Colin Kahl said at a forum held by Defense News.
In a daily Tweet, British Defense Intelligence said it observed “heavy fighting” having taken place overnight on September 7 “in the north near Kharkiv, in the east in the Donbas [composed of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions]and in the south in Kherson Oblast.”
While Russia’s approach has been straightforward and replete with heavy artillery shelling, followed by armor and infantry advances to incrementally take territory, Ukraine has used precision weapons provided by the West – mostly from the U.S. – to surgically strike high-valued targets, such as command and control centers, army bases, ammunition warehouses and fuel depots.
The so-called shaping operations have gravely weakened Russia’s defenses and the counteroffensives appear to have spread Moscow’s defenses thin.
Overnight on September 7, Ukraine’s military said that 640 Russian soldiers were killed, the equivalent of what could be considered a battalion tactical group. Thirty-seven armored personnel carriers were destroyed as well as 15 tanks. Two Sukhoi-25 war jets and a KA-52 assault “Alligator” helicopter were also downed, according to Ukrainian estimates and videos viewed by The Ukrainian Weekly.
The Weekly estimated a Russian killed-in-action rate over the past week of 388 personnel, based on Ukrainian military approximations.
When asked what can be specifically reported on the offensives, Defense Ministry spokesperson Iryna Zolotar said that, “everywhere a defensive operation is taking place, the enemy’s logistics, control points, etc. are being destroyed.”
British intelligence added that “multiple concurrent threats spread across 500 kilometers will test Russia’s ability to coordinate operational design and reallocate resources across multiple groupings of forces.”
Aside from making breakthroughs in the south while liberating a number of settlements, Ukraine struck into the heart of Russian communication lines in the occupied parts of the Kharkiv region, which could become a spearhead directed at Izium in the Donbas area.
Overnight on September 7-8, Kyiv reportedly encircled Balakliya, which had a pre-war population of 27,000, and moved toward Kupyansk, a railroad hub situated along the highway leading toward Izium from Belgorod in Russia, which Moscow uses to resupply its troops in the area.
Overnight, Ukraine was also suspected of striking an electrical power station in the Russian city, partially cutting off power and water in the city, which is located 80 kilometers from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second most populous city.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said that “Ukrainian forces likely used a tactical surprise to advance at least 20 kilometers into Russian-held territory in eastern Kharkiv Oblast on September 7, recapturing approximately 400 km2 [square kilometers]of ground [by] skillfully exploiting Russia’s deployment of forces away from the Izium-Kharkiv area [to the southern front]to retake territory and threaten Russian ground lines of communication in the area, prompting demoralized responses from Russian milbloggers [military bloggers].”
Amid operational silence, The Ukrainian Weekly viewed alleged videos of Ukrainian forces also liberating the Donetsk regional town of Sviatohirsk and retaking villages near Lysychansk in the Luhansk region.
Long road ahead
However, the unprovoked Russian war most likely will “extend into 2023,” Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said in a co-authored column with Lt. Gen. Mykhailo Zabrodskyi in the state-run news agency Ukrinform.
“Russia’s fundamental advantage lies in its sense of impunity, i.e. the ability to conduct long-range missile strikes all over Ukraine (for up to 2,000 kilometers) without fearing retaliatory strikes deep into its territory due to the maximum range of weapons Ukraine currently possesses being limited to 100 kilometers and those being outdated,” he wrote.
For Ukraine to withstand the onslaught and win the war, he said Kyiv needs “further Western assistance to substantially enhance Ukraine’s deep-strike capabilities.”
Fearing that Russia won’t cease in its overall aim to take over Ukraine, Mr. Zaluzhnyi said that, if “the current disproportion in long-range capabilities remains, the risk of protracted hostilities with Russia will persist even if Ukraine succeeds in retaking Crimea and liberating the rest of its territory.”
Russia still occupies about 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory in a war it started in 2014, the largest in scale on the European continent since World War II.
Meanwhile, the U.S. announced a fresh round of weapons assistance worth $675 million after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Western military heads at the Ramstein air base in Germany on September 8.
“It comes on top of more than $11bn provided since just before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his renewed invasion of the country in February,” the Associated Press reported.
On the same day, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ukraine and met with Mr. Zelenskyy and with children who were evacuated from occupied Kherson in the south.
AP said he announced an additional $2 billion in long-term military assistance for Ukraine “and 18 neighboring countries that are at risk of attack by Russia.”
Nuclear leakage threat
Two United Nations specialists are permanently stationed on a rotating basis at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant occupied by Russia in Enerhodar in the Zaporizhia region of Ukraine.
The global security body’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the situation there is “untenable.”
In a second report prior to its final report, the IAEA said this week that there is “an urgent need for interim measures” to prevent a nuclear disaster.
Russian forces have occupied the plant, which has the capacity of producing 5.7 gigawatts of power from six reactors, since March.
Ukraine has called for a 10-kilomter perimeter to be established around the plant in which no military equipment would be allowed. Kyiv accused Russia of stationing lethal hardware at the site while shelling it in “false flag” actions meant to accuse Ukraine of inflaming the dangerous situation there. Moscow, in turn, has accused Ukraine of shelling the plant.
The agency’s head, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said after visiting the site with a delegation this week – though without British and U.S. members, as per Russian preconditions – that “the establishment of a Nuclear Safety and Security Protection Zone at the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Ukraine is urgently needed.”
Ukraine currently has 15 active nuclear reactors that generate about 40 percent of the country’s electricity.
Kyiv has demanded to retain full control of the plant but Russia has refused to relinquish command.
Ukraine’s head of the state-run Enerhoatom agency has also accused Russia of torturing and killing some of the facility’s staff at the nuclear power station and abducting 200 of them, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
“Some 11,000 people worked at the Zaporizhia plant before it fell under Russian control in the early weeks after Moscow launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February,” RFE/RL said.