A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 19, 2024

The Reasons Momentum May Again Be Shifting In Ukraine's Favor

Growing aid from Europe, the prospect of renewed aid from the US and a broadened recruit pool are bolstering Ukrainian prospects just as Russia, after almost six months of substantial manpower and ammunition advantages has failed to significantly advance anywhere along the front. 

And if that weren't enough, economic data reveal that Ukrainian attacks on Russian oil refining capabilities has reduced its crude exports 25%, reducing its foreign exchange income and economic performance. JL 

Michael O'Hanlon reports in the Washington Post:

With another $60 billion in U.S. aid, a boost in recruiting and a military push through a section of the front, Ukraine might, late this year or early next, liberate more of its occupied territory. Given restored U.S. support, ongoing help from Europe, (and) recent changes in Ukrainian conscription law, if Ukraine pushed through the front lines, it could then isolate and defeat Russian forces by punching through Russian lines, and could widen the breakthrough corridor and penetrate farther. Geography and topography would favor Ukraine, as it could attack Russian forces from behind, a chance to stop Russian aggression, regain its Black Sea Coast, free its citizens and defend the global order.

Critics of the proposed $60 billion package of U.S. aid for Ukraine in Congress, Mar-a-Lago and beyond ask what the beleaguered country could do with the money and associated ammunition and new weaponry. Would it give Ukrainian forces the wherewithal to beat Russia? It’s a good question.


The answer is a solid maybe. Given restored U.S. support and ongoing help from Europe, Ukraine might be able to turn the tide. It wouldn’t be easy, but the possibility is great enough that, before letting Vladimir Putin notch a partial victory in this war, the world should help Ukraine try once more to take its territory back — if that’s really what Ukraine wants.


Consider first what Ukraine would need to do in a future counteroffensive. It would have to try to push straight through Russian positions. After all, it cannot maneuver around and behind them, because that would mean trying to attack through Russian territory. Apart from the harrowing logistics over such huge distances, this would run a real risk of nuclear escalation. Attacking via airborne operations or amphibious assault is also out of the question; these approaches would require far greater transport capability than Ukraine could obtain on any realistic timeline.

If Ukraine pushed through the front lines, however, it could then try to isolate and defeat Russian forces. If its troops broke through in the Zaporizhzhia region, for instance, they could perhaps move on to the Sea of Azov, depriving Russian forces farther west in Crimea and Kherson of logistical support and reinforcements. And if Ukraine could then force a surrender, it could reclaim about half the territory that Russia now holds.

Ukraine has tried once before to penetrate Russian front lines. But that push, conducted last year, happened in several places at once, and reportedly against U.S. military advice. A more promising approach would focus on one place, in an effort to create an opening perhaps 10 to 20 miles wide. The goal would be to drive the Russians back far enough that they could not use direct-fire or line-of-sight weapons (just artillery and rockets) against vehicles transiting the opening. Line charges, combat bulldozers and bridging equipment, all crucial for getting through, could be concentrated in the one location, as could assets like jammers against Russian communications, drones and air defenses. With luck, if Ukraine prepared its attack carefully and stealthily, Russia would not have enough time to organize its operational reserves and quickly plug the gap.


Popular lore notwithstanding, an offense does not need a 3-to-1 advantage in manpower or equipment across a whole military theater to have a good chance of success. But when attacking a prepared defense head-on, that kind of superiority is probably needed in the place where the army attempts to break through.

At or near this vicinity, Russia could be expected to have 40,000 to 50,000 troops within weapons range, or able to get there within a few hours — about 10 percent of the half a million troops it now has stationed along its 600-mile front line. To give itself a 3-to-1 advantage, Ukraine would need about 150,000 troops — at least 100,000 more than it would normally have along such a short length of front.

If Ukrainian troops punched through Russian lines, they could then work to widen the breakthrough corridor and penetrate farther. Eventually, they would look for an opportunity to encircle and cut off all the Russian forces holding Ukrainian land to the west of the breakthrough corridor — up to a quarter million Russian troops.


At this point, geography and topography would favor Ukraine, as it could attack Russian forces from behind. However, Ukraine still would probably not wish to fight Russia with less than an equal number of troops, and this means it would want at least 250,000 troops of its own (including the 150,000 deployed in the breakthrough). Some of these soldiers might be found by thinning out Ukrainian front-line positions elsewhere. But most will need to be fresh recruits or draftees. Ukraine’s current military strength of a little under 1 million troops would need to increase by at least 200,000 (and maybe even more, should Russia further strengthen its forces in Ukraine prior to a Ukrainian attack).

Thanks to recent changes in the Ukrainian conscription law allowing the government to draft men ages 25 and 26, some 400,000 more men are now eligible. But that likely won’t be enough to find 200,000 more, so there will also need to be efforts to increase enlistments from other age categories. This means Ukraine will have to improve incentives — not an easy challenge, but also not insurmountable.

With another $60 billion in U.S. aid, a boost in recruiting and an impressive military push through a small section of the front line, Ukraine might have a chance, late this year or early next, to liberate half or more of its occupied territory. The odds are tough, but not hopeless.


The country deserves a second chance at such a counteroffensive — to defend the global order, to stop Russia’s aggression and, not least, to free its own citizens now living under Russian rule and regain its Black Sea coast.


With another $60 billion in U.S. aid, a boost in recruiting and an impressive military push through a small section of the front line, Ukraine might have a chance, late this year or early next, to liberate half or more of its occupied territory.


This scenario leaves one sobering question: What if Ukraine’s next counteroffensive doesn’t work?

Then the United States might well decide to shift its support to an explicitly defensive military assistance effort — at maybe half the cost of its current aid. But it is too soon to push Ukraine toward that option. A new Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russia would be extremely daunting and not a sure thing. But it could succeed.


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