The Ukrainian counteroffensive has begun, and Russia is putting up fierce resistance. Despite this, Kiev has reported some early successes and showed the international press some villages that have been retaken. Military experts are monitoring the fighting. Their conclusion is mixed.
Ukrainian army retakes Russian-occupied villages
The Ukrainian army is leading the charge into the small villages of in the south and east of the country after they were occupied by the Russians for almost a year and a half. International press was taken through the ruined and deserted homes of the villages as soldiers proudly showed where they retook control of the area.
Counteroffensive deemed necessary by Ukraine
"This counteroffensive is necessary, although we all know that the price of it is the lives of our comrades," says a soldier with the pseudonym Winnie, according to AFP news agency. In his New Year's address, President Selenskyj declared 2023 as the "Year of Victory." However, six months later, Ukrainian troops are progressing slowly.
Military expert opinions vary
Ben Hodges, former commander of US forces in Europe and proclaimed optimist, believes that Ukraine could even reclaim the Crimean peninsula this summer if the West provided the required weapons. However, most observers are more skeptical. Many believe that the recently started counteroffensive by the Ukrainian troops could be decisive for the course of the war.
Russian forces expected to resist fiercely
According to official Ukrainian reports, about 100 square kilometers in the south and east of the country have already been recaptured. This is only a small fraction of the territory that Russia has occupied. Western military experts caution that it is too early to evaluate the success of the counteroffensive, and that Ukrainian forces will face fierce resistance from Russian forces.
Months of preparation by Russian troops
Russian troops have been preparing for months for a possible attack from Ukraine. The Western world had been criticized for delaying the delivery of combat and infantry fighting vehicles, which gave Russian soldiers enough time to lay out complex defense lines, tight minefields, and dig out defensive positions.
Success versus cost
However, in the face of these obstacles, some argue that the progress of the Ukrainian army is impressive. Even moving a few hundred meters forward is considered a success. Once defense lines are breached, advances will be faster, but Ukraine is still far from that point. The risks of such an attack against a prepared defense are not without potential high costs, warns former General Erhard Bühler.
Ukraine: "We need to take over the air superiority"
A challenge for Ukrainian troops is the use of combat helicopters, fighter jets, and drones on the Russian side. They are likely responsible for the first documented attacks on Western tanks. Russian media immediately exploited these images to demonstrate a painful loss on the Ukrainian side. However, it is now known that the Ukrainians managed to salvage at least some of the damaged technology from the battlefield.
"We need to take over the air superiority"
"We need to take over the air superiority," says Oleksij Hetman of the Ukrainian Reserve. "If the troops are covered from the air and the enemy cannot do anything, it offers us additional possibilities." This requires the modern fighter jets that Ukraine has long demanded. Russia's regular shelling of cities far from the front ties up Ukraine's air defense, so these systems cannot be used to protect ground troops at the front. "Unfortunately, terrorism against the civilian population pays off for Russia. That is the main problem in this phase," says Nico Lange.
What is the situation on the front line?
Little is known about the actual situation on the front line. Observers assume that news comes to the public with a few days' delay. As such, many believe that it is too early for an analysis. "They are silent about where they are and how things are going compared to previous operations. They are trying to maintain operational security as much as possible," says American military expert Michael Kofman in his podcast "War on the Rocks."
Secrecy and deception
The current attacks on several front sections could also be a deception, says Oleksij Melnyk. "The biggest mystery for the Russians right now is where the main strike is supposed to be." Meanwhile, soldiers and the population are sworn to secrecy. "Plans love silence" is the title of a video by the Ukrainian government showing soldiers wearing masks and heavily armed, putting a finger to their lips in a gesture of silence. It looks like a movie trailer for the war.
The price of war
The reality is less dramatic. The cost of the war is visible mainly in the hospitals of the country, where young men with burns, severed limbs, and shrapnel wounds are being treated. "We don't have enough artillery. The front is very long. Everywhere we try to attack, they wait for us with artillery," complains military doctor Maxim to Swiss television.