A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 26, 2023

Ukrainian Attacks In the Country's South Continue To Build Momentum

In the sector where Ukraine infamously lost a slew of NATO-donated armor, Ukrainian troops are now making steady progress, importantly, against prepared Russian defenses. 

Those pictures of damaged Ukrainian armor from almost two months ago are not forgotten, but they are in the past. Ukrainian forces ability to learn and adapt is now paying dividends as the counteroffensive makes determined headway. JL

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

Losing slowly rather than rapidly is what passes for success in Russia these days. Three days ago, Ukrainian forces pushed to the edge of Robotyne. Since then, they’ve taken territory east of the village, flanking Russian positions. Unlike positions in the area south of Velyka Novosilka, Russia is fighting close to the prepared defensive line at Robotyne. In addition to Robotyne, there are intense conflicts at several locations, (including) new locations where Ukraine has pressed Russian forces. One of those new spots is south of Hulyaipole, where Ukrainian forces have moved down the highway leading to Polohy.

No one is particularly happy about the pace of events in the Ukraine counteroffensive. President Volodomyr Zelenskyy isn’t happy. Ukraine’s military leadership isn’t happy. Those participating on the ground are certainly not happy.

Vladimir Putin may be happy. Because losing slowly rather than rapidly is what passes for success in Russia these days.

Now The Wall Street Journal is indicating that President Joe Biden is also unhappy, along with other Western allies, because no one likes the political and economic implications of a prolonged war in Ukraine. But the Journal does seem to be making a couple of judgements about the situation that are decidedly … odd.

First, The Wall Street Journal writers describe the counteroffensive as “stalled.” But there’s a big difference between stalled and slow, one that can be seen in announcements later in this article. Yes, everyone wished that Ukraine would have smashing victories of the sort it realized when advancing through Kharkiv oblast last year, but Markos has written many times about why no one should have expected those kind of results.

Also, the initial issues with the counteroffensive mean that Ukraine took some of its plans back to the drawing board over the past two weeks, which resulted in making a slow process even slower for a while. But this hopefully will have the ultimate result of speeding up the process.

Ukraine is attacking a large force in prepared defensive positions. As Markos has noted, that’s an extreme challenge even for the best-trained Western armies. Ukraine, for all its grit and determination, is not one of those armies. Not only have they only had a few months to get used to the Western weapons that have been settled on them, they’re dealing with an army that is now about one-half Soviet-era gear, one-quarter homegrown advances, and one-quarter NATO hardware. That NATO hardware also varies from some of the best military equipment in the world to “say, didn’t we have a lot of those gizmos parked out in the south forty?” The logistical problems of supply and repair are beyond daunting, even before a fight begins.

The Ukrainian army is also dealing with something no one in NATO has seen before: a battlefield overrun with all types of drones. Surveillance drones. Quadcopters dropping grenades. FPV drones diving right into the open hatches of vehicles. This is a new kind of war, and Ukraine is in the discovery process about how best to integrate it with both tactics and strategy.

All that contributes to the biggest issue facing Ukraine’s counteroffensive: scale. So far, what we’ve seen since Ukraine took the offensive at the beginning of June is mostly squad-level tactics. A small number of guys; a handful of vehicles; movements that appear to be tentative or designed to extend no farther than the next treeline or set of trenches. There has been none of the kind of large engagement in which dozens of tanks, hundreds of other vehicles, and thousands of men hurl themselves against, and through, objectives that are kilometers away.

In recent days there have been fear-laden reports from Russian sources such as Rybar which suggest that those big Ukranian assaults are coming. In message after message, Russian military bloggers are reporting that Ukraine has just been playing them, drawing Russian forces into the open, carrying out a gradual attrition, and collecting information on both positions and tactics before launching a bigger attack.

These Russian bloggers seem convinced that an overwhelming Ukrainian punch is right around the corner, and they don’t seem to feel Russia is prepared. Let’s hope they are right on both counts, but at this stage, such an attack seems unlikely.

The other odd aspect of The Wall Street Journal article is the supposed goal.

The slow pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive against entrenched Russian invaders is dimming hopes that negotiations for an end to the fighting could come this year and raising the specter of an open-ended conflict, according to Western officials.

Was anyone seriously thinking that Ukraine and Russia were going to sit down for peace talks and hammer this thing out? Ukrainian forces have made it abundantly clear that they regard any halt in action while Russian forces are still on their territory as an invitation for Russia to regroup and resupply. Dictator Vladimir Putin might consider a chat that involved Ukraine’s surrender, but seems unwilling to engage on any other terms. So what kind of negotiations was anyone expecting?

Frankly, it would not be surprising to see this war end with no kind of peace agreement at all. Ukraine forces Russia to withdraw its forces, the two sides glower at each other across the line, and then … nothing. That possibility seems even more likely considering that Russia failing to sign on any kind of dotted line might make it more difficult for Ukraine to complete its entry into NATO. Putin has to know that signing on to an agreement, even one that seems somewhat favorable, is likely to land him exactly where he has loudly claimed he didn’t want to be. Sitting back in an uneasy situation where either side lobs a missile across the border now and then might be Putin’s best outcome.

One sure thing is that even if the counteroffensive continues at the current pace, the U.S. will continue to provide support—or at least it will so long as Biden is in the White House. In ordinary times, even a Republican candidate who campaigned against supporting Ukraine prior  to the election might have a difficult time pulling resources away if they actually took office. But then, these aren’t ordinary times. The possibility of a Republican victory not just cutting off American support but generating schisms within NATO is probably why Zelenskyy is still pushing the idea that Ukraine can win this thing within the next year. And that’s good, so long as he doesn’t feel pressured into taking a gamble Ukraine is unprepared to make.

Note: I’m away from my regular desktop today, so I don’t have access to the existing project maps. Still, these images should give some indication of what’s going on.

Note: I’m away from my regular desktop today, so I don’t have access to the existing project maps. Still, these images should give some indication of what’s going on.


Open image in another tab for a larger view.

The biggest news of the past 24 hours is that Ukraine turned its forces southeast from Klishchiivka and liberated the town of Adriivka after making a significant advance. Ukraine also seems to have secured the southern end of Klishchiivka (geolocated images show Ukrainian forces there over 12 hours ago) with Russian forces potentially hanging on at the northeast edge of the town.

Expectations are that Klishchiivka will also be liberated soon, opening a path for Ukrainian forces to either move east or divert north toward Bakhmut. Ukraine isn’t particularly eager to get into a street-by-street conflict among the rubble piles of the former city, especially since Russia apparently has VDV forces on hand in an effort to protect their one propaganda victory of the past year. So Ukraine may move in the direction of Opytne before turning to the north.

Ukraine also seems to have picked up a small amount of ground northwest of Bakhmut near Yahidne, but there hasn’t yet been a breakthrough in this area.

A series of videos released by Russia supposedly showed them still positioned in Klishchiivka with no Ukrainian forces in sight, but these videos have now been geolocated as being several kilometers to the east.


Open image in another tab for a larger view.

This area has been one of the most difficult points for Ukraine to assault since the counteroffensive began. This is the area where both Bradley fighting vehicles and Leopard tanks have been lost as Ukrainian troops are forced to pick their way through an extensive minefield while Russian artillery bombards their positions with artillery from well behind the lines.

Still, Ukraine has made progress here. Three days ago, Ukrainian forces reportedly pushed to the edge of Robotyne village. Since then, they’ve taken territory to the east of the village, flanking the forward Russian positions. Unlike positions to the east in the area south of Velyka Novosilka, Russia is fighting close to the prepared defensive line at Robotyne.

That area to the east of the village is not fully under Ukrainian control, but Ukraine seems to be cleaning up the last small groups of Russian soldiers in this zone. That represents a 1.7-kilometer advance over the past couple of days. There are some reports that Russia is falling back from Robotyne to defensive positions just to the south, but this has not been confirmed. Even so, Ukraine’s ability to finally make a significant advance in this area is a good sign and there are hopes that Robotyne will soon be liberated.


In addition to Robotyne, there are some intense conflicts going on at several locations, as well as some new locations where Ukraine has reportedly moved into position to press Russian forces. One of those new spots is directly south of Hulyaipole, where Ukrainian forces have reportedly begun a movement down the highway leading to Polohy. There is also reportedly fighting near both Pryyutne and around Staromayorske. Ukraine actually took about a quarter of Staromayorske at the beginning of the week, but was reportedly forced to move back due to heavy artillery fire.

Meanwhile, Russia seems to have extended its area of control in the north. However, Russian claims about taking three villages really mean just a handful of houses, as the largest of these villages had a pre-war population of 36. It’s not clear that Ukraine had any forces positioned to hold these locations. Look for more details on what’s happening in the largely ignored north in the next update.


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