A Blog by Jonathan Low


Aug 14, 2023

The Reason Ukraine's Offensive Is "Suddenly" Succeeding

A hallmark of Ukraine's military performance has been adaptability, flexibility and opportunism, all rooted in reality. 

The Ukrainians are pressing to find or create weaknesses in the Russian defenses and then exploiting them. Their NATO armor is still in reserve should a breakout occur, but the primary goal is wear the Russians down until they break. And it appears to be working. JL 

Phillips O'Brien reports in his substack:

The Ukrainians didnt ‘choose’ to abandon NATO trained tactics—the NATO tactics didnt hold the prospect of success. The Ukrainians have done better since not trying to break Russian lines directly but instead corroding Russian resources. The Ukrainians are continuing to create weak spots in the Russian line. The Trans-Dnipro Ukrainian operation is important (because) it shows the Ukrainians strategy in the counteroffensive is not fixed to a certain area/place, and (that) the Ukrainians have flexible operations. This operation could become a major bridgehead, posing a nasty dilemma for the Russians

This was actually one of the more interesting weeks for a while in understanding how Ukraine has adapted in strategy for the counteroffensive. They continue to try and find an area of weakness, and that involves constantly pressing to find areas which the Russians have not defended as well.

Moving Around Russian Reserves--Cross-Dnipro Operations

The most interesting development of the week was the story (which grew from an internet rumor) to something more concrete, about a Ukrainian operation across the Dnipro near the town of Kozachi Laheri (about halfway between Kherson and

Nova Kakhovka, on the east/left bank of the river. See Deep State Map below for location. Why I found this interesting from the start, and I gently started mentioning it in tweets early in the week, is that the news started coming out from Russian sources—who seemed concerned that something out of the ordinary was going on in this area.

I wrote my midweek update about the raid and what it could mean.

Now the Ukrainians have been doing raids up and down the Dnipro for months—and they were just that, raids. They’ve been the temporary insertion of small numbers of light forces to probe Russian positions, take prisoners, etc. The Kyiv Independent has even published a story about these raids.

Now, why this most recent operation started sending some different signals was that the Russian sources started making very worrying signs, but the Ukrainians remained completely silent. The Ukrainians sometimes talk openly about operations as a form of disinformation and confusion, but if something really matters, they clam up fully and say nothing at all (at least that is my impression). The Ukrainians certainly did not want to bring any attention to this operation at all, while Russians sources seem very concerned and vocal.

When the story first started being discussed most people judged it was another pretty small raid. The Guardian published a story that implied it was around 50 soldiers in fewer than 10 boats.


However, this operation (Im not using the word raid) seemed different. It was not automatically a raid, something that would definitely result in a withdrawal back across the river to the Ukrainian controlled bank. Instead it seemed to be a far larger force that was sent in with the possibility of staying. And it has been interesting to see that the analysis is shifting on it. The ISW, which first judged the operation as a pretty limited raid, yesterday upgraded its assumptions, saying that it might be something more.


The issue the ISW analysis is wrestling with is whether this is ‘bridgehead’ or not—in other words an attempt to establish a permanent crossing point of the Dnipro across which the Ukrainians could bring heavier loads of supplies and even armored vehicles. What I would say is that the Ukrainians are seeing if they can build a bridgehead here (or near here). To do that, they need to see what the Russians have in terms of fires and counterattacking possibilities. Indeed, the Ukrainians might want to see if they could fight off the expected Russian counterattack before attempting to construct better supply lines across the river.

So far there are some interesting signs that this operation is posing real problems for the Russians (or more likely that it has discovered a location that the Russians had only weaker, lighter forces in as they had had to send their reserves to other places across the vast front line). Here we are, about 6 days into the operation (already that would make it quite an advanced ‘raid’) and the Russians seem to have struggled in mounting a large counterattack. Right now, the Ukrainians if anything seem to have the advantage in fires, as their troops on the left bank are fighting close enough to Ukrainian artillery on the east bank to receive strong support. Indeed, the stories circulating are that it is the Russians who are now having to redirect reserves back to Kherson, having been caught out by this operation.


Why this Ukrainian operation is important, therefore, is two fold. It shows the Ukrainians overall strategy in the counteroffensive and how it is not fixed to a certain area/place, and second how the Ukrainians have flexible operations. This is an operation that could become an attempt at a major bridgehead. Either way, it has posed a nasty dilemma for the Russians—do they bring reserves that they probably intended for the centre of the line (Zaporizhzhia) to the edge in Kherson? Or do they take a risk and try to make do with what they now have in Kherson, and gamble that they have enough to keep the Ukrainians from establishing a bridgehead?

I will end by saying that this tweet thread by Thomas Theiner, has held up very well indeed.


Flexibility of Area of Offensive Operations--Ukrainians have to fight their war

The raid also brings back the idea that the Ukrainians could still eventually commit large armored reserves almost anywhere on the line. Yes, the Ukrainians still have large armored reserves—what have you not seen much of lately? That would be new pictures of destroyed Ukrainian armored vehicles. They are still keeping many of their new armored forces back from the line, or rotating them in and out to maintain a powerful reserve. Believe me, if the Russians had new pictures of destroyed Ukrainian vehicles (like they did in mid June) they would be trumpeted to high heaven.

The Ukrainians meanwhile are trying their strategy of pressing in a number of places across the line, making small advances (though they are getting steady) and at the same time degrading Russian forces. In the Zaporizhzhia front they seem to be concentrating on expanding two bulges; one directed at Robotyne to the west and another heading now to the south of Staramaiorske in the east. Ive put exaggerrated markers around them.

These are slowly but surely approaching the main lines of Russian defenses. This again poses the questions for the Russians that the cross-Dnipro raid asked. Do they commit more and more of their reserves to hold them back (as they have done), or not? The Ukrainians have the initiative here and the Russians need to decide what to do to try and stop them.

Overall, Ukrainian advances in two months in these area are actually relatively extensive for this war over the last year. Remember it took the Russians about a year (May 2022 to May 2023) to advance from Popasna to seize all of Bakhmut (approx 30 kilometers or 20 miles). The Ukrainians have taken more than half this amount in two separate drives (10-12 miles) in about 2 months—or one sixth the amount of time.


At the same time they have done it by having to attack into prepared, well defended positions. Moreover, at the same time they have retaken much of the ground seized by the Russians to the north and south of Bakhmut. Its not pretty, but its showing progress, trying to limit Ukrainian losses—and posing very real problems for the Russian defenses.

Ukraine has no other option, btw. The Ukrainians were armed this way (very problematically as Im sure you have heard me say time and time again), and its all they can do. In the short term its unlikely that they will receive anything new that will drastically upgrade their capabilities (though ATACMS and German Taurus missiles would be nice). As such, they know what they have, and they are doing what they can—and they are showing much greater relative success than the Russians did last year.

And they are asking difficult questions of the Russian forces—where do they prioritize? For all we know the Ukrainians might open up another line of operations, if they discover that the Russians have weakened other parts of the line in their attempts to stop the Ukrainian attacks ongoing in Zaporizhzhia and across the Dnipro.

A quick aside on this. I was really pleased yesterday to see more people starting to answer the self-serving criticism that has been made of the Ukrainians that they stopped trying to follow their NATO trained combined arms tactics and reverted to their old way of doing business.

Isobel Koshiw (a great journalist who has been writing for the Guardian) put out a piece on Ukrainian frustration about this question.


The Ukrainians didnt ‘chose’ to abandon their NATO trained tactics—the NATO trained tactics didnt hold out the prospect of success. The Ukrainians have done better since not trying to break Russian lines directly but instead to try and corrode Russian resources.

And they will continue.


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