Ukraine’s counteroffensive: Wait for it

Russia Ukraine War
Surrounded by soldiers the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a national flag-raising ceremony in the freed Izium, Ukraine, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. Zelenskyy visited the recently liberated city on Wednesday, greeting soldiers and thanking them for their efforts in retaking the area, as the Ukrainian flag was raised in front of the burned-out city hall building. (AP Photo/Leo Correa) Leo Correa/AP

Ukraine’s counteroffensive: Wait for it

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Ukraine’s military has been active throughout eastern and southern Ukraine the past week, prompting many to believe the much-anticipated counteroffensive is beginning as towns such as Blahodatne, Neskuchne, and Makarivka are valiantly liberated by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Special operations forces are wreaking havoc in Russia’s rear as images on the Russian social media platform Telegram showcase their work. Even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky boldly proclaimed Kyiv’s counteroffensive is underway, stating, “relevant counteroffensive defensive actions are taking place in Ukraine.”

But are they?

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Arguably not in earnest, but when you look at Ukraine’s counteroffensive from the perspective of a phased military operation, then this is likely true. Everyone wants to jump right into the deep end of this counteroffensive; fortunately, however, Zelensky and his generals are demonstrating strategic patience and are working off their timeline.

The initial preparatory phase of the counteroffensive was to build, train, and position combat power. We have seen this in Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, and western Ukraine.

What we are witnessing now is likely the second phase of the operation: armed reconnaissance. The combat operations seen thus far are primarily company-sized formations. Consisting of tanks and armored personnel carriers that dismount infantrymen when they come in contact, they are supported by loitering drones.

This phase is being used to gather intelligence on enemy defenses: charting obstacles, composition, and disposition of enemy forces and locating Russian reserves behind the main defensive belts, artillery formations supporting the defense, command and control headquarters, and ammunition, fuel, and supply depots.

Ukraine has yet to assault in mass by deploying brigade-sized formations, establishing fire superiority, or conducting suppression of enemy air defense fires. Ukrainians are probing Russian defenses, looking for “soft spots” to exploit at a time and place of their choosing, and trying to flush out Russian units. Multiple lines of these probing efforts across the vast defensive front are intended to mask where Ukraine’s main and supporting efforts will originate. Successful Ukrainian breakthroughs and raids into the rear areas add to the “fog of war” for Russian Commanding Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

Concurrently with the second phase, special operations forces are disrupting Russian rear areas of operation. Anti-Putin forces composed of Russian citizens, including the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, are conducting raids in Russian oblasts. Precision deep strikes utilizing Storm Shadow cruise missiles provided by the United Kingdom are putting Russian war-making capabilities and assets once considered not at risk in Crimea and Russia on the target list.

Gerasimov and the Kremlin are now forced to defend everywhere. Russian “barrier troops” execute disheartened Russian soldiers attempting to flee from defensive positions, while infighting between Sergei Shoigu’s Defense Ministry, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group, and Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechen fighters are completely eroding Gerasimov’s unity of command. Meanwhile back in Moscow, Russian propagandists are imploding on Russian television as President Vladimir Putin enjoys a glass of champagne while talking with reporters about a “new world order.” You cannot make this up.

The third phase of the operation will be the condition setting. Utilizing intelligence gathered during the second phase, Ukraine will begin targeting and taking down Russian defensive positions and troop formations. It will be deliberate, concentrated, and overwhelming. Concurrent deep strikes via HIMARS, MiG-29s, Shadow Storm, and other weapons systems will continue targeting reserve formations, artillery, headquarters, and ammunition, fuel, and supply depots.

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Mass, surprise, and speed are essential for the attacking forces in the counteroffensive’s phase four. The where and when will present themselves when Zelensky and his generals believe the necessary conditions are met.

Wait for it.

Jonathan Sweet, a retired Army colonel and 30-year military intelligence officer, led the U.S. European Command Intelligence Engagement Division from 2012 to 2014. Mark Toth is an economist, entrepreneur, and former board member of the World Trade Center, St. Louis.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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