As the Ukrainian counteroffensive unfolds, the Ukrainian forces continue to make steady tactical gains along several axes of advance in southern Ukraine and the Donbas.
Kyiv is hoping to turn these tactical gains into an operational breakthrough that would push the Russian forces back and divide them into two groupings that would be easier to tackle.
But, according to senior U.S. officials, the Ukrainian forces are running out of time to accomplish their goal in the current fighting season.
Time is Running Out
Over the weekend, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley assessed that the Ukrainian forces probably have between 30 and 45 days of “fighting weather” left in the current fighting season before rain, snow, and mud stall ground operations.
Despite trying for more than three months, the Ukrainian forces have failed to breach the entire Russian defensive line and push through to the unprotected rear.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Ukrainian military has made significant progress, especially in the western part of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, but it is still far away from an operational breakthrough.
The top-ranking military officer in the U.S. military isn’t looking to depress the Ukrainians with this assessment but rather prompt them to be more aggressive with their forces on the ground.
The Ukrainian military suffered significant casualties in the opening days and weeks of the counteroffensive but had little to show for them. Western main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles in Ukrainian service got stuck in the extensive Russian minefields and suffered losses. The Ukrainians then changed back to a more familiar style of combat: attrition.
But, U.S. officials believe, an operational breakthrough would require Kyiv to concentrate its forces on a particular point on the battlefield, thus achieving force superiority, and break the Russian defenses.
Meanwhile, Kyiv continues to argue in favor of its style of war and points out that the counteroffensive isn’t limited to a particular timeframe but will go on for several months until it has achieved its objectives. During some point in the winter, there will be a “hard freeze” on the ground during which the extremely low temperatures will freeze the snow. These conditions favor mechanized warfare, and it is likely that the Ukrainians will try to take advantage of them to press on with their counteroffensive.
The Russian Side
On the other side, Moscow is all too happy with how the Ukrainian counteroffensive is going.
The Kremlin has clearly opted for the attrition strategy. And with good reason as the Russian military has proven to be incapable of achieving results in its latest large-scale offensives.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his advisers, thus, are likely looking to drag the war out until Western pressure on Ukraine forces Kyiv on the negotiating table.
Putin has shown that he doesn’t care about the lives of his countrymen and that he is more than willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of people at the altar of his grandiose ambitions.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.