Zaporizhia, Ukraine – June 9, 2023
Hard-fought battles continue to rage along the Zaporizhia front, as Ukrainian forces attempt to break through Russian defenses. However, the Ukrainian advance has been met with stubborn resistance and swift counterattacks, resulting in a stalemate in the region. Military analyst Mikael Valtersson, a former officer of the Swedish Armed Forces and chief of staff for the Sweden Democrats, provides a somber assessment of the ongoing offensive.
While sporadic gains have been made by the Ukrainian Army Force (UkrAF) in certain areas, the Russian Air Force (RuAF) swiftly recaptures lost territories, ensuring that the conflict remains confined to the gray area just ahead of the Russian main defense lines. Valtersson highlights that the focal points of the fighting have centered around Lobkove to the west and Robotino to the south of Orikhiv. Although Ukrainian forces briefly secured Lobkove, they were compelled to retreat due to intense Russian bombardments.
In the case of Robotino, Russian forces initially withdrew to secondary forward positions closer to the settlement, allowing Ukrainian troops to take control. However, Russian forces swiftly regained the lost ground. Presently, Ukrainian forces have recaptured the positions for a second time, with Russian forces now attempting to retake the first line. Nevertheless, the settlement of Robotino remains beyond the reach of Ukrainian forces, and they find themselves engaged in an uphill battle in open terrain, traversing Russian minefields. It is plausible that they may have to withdraw once again to their original positions.
Valtersson also highlights a critical flaw in the Ukrainian offensive strategy—the failure to sweep mines in advance of the attacks. Instead, Ukrainian mine-clearing vehicles are deployed during the assault, leaving the advancing Ukrainian armor vulnerable to Russian anti-tank assets. This tactical approach seems reminiscent of the early stages of the war when Russian armor columns suffered heavy losses to Ukrainian anti-tank weapons. Tragically, history appears to be repeating itself with Ukrainian forces now facing similar consequences.
Attaining air and artillery superiority is vital for any successful offensive, enabling the attacking side to shield their mine-clearing operations and troop concentrations. Additionally, it allows for the destruction of the defender’s command structures and logistical hubs, while effectively hampering and slowing down enemy reserves. This becomes even more crucial when facing an adversary with substantial reserves and a defense in depth.
However, on the Zaporizhia front, Ukrainian forces find themselves at a severe disadvantage, lacking the necessary means to act decisively. Valtersson dismisses the option of achieving strategic surprise, as was seen in the Kharkiv offensive last autumn, stating that it does not exist in the Zaporizhia theater. He asserts that launching an attack against an enemy possessing all the advantages enjoyed by the Russian Air Force on this front would be suicidal.
Valtersson contends that Ukrainian and Western commanders could have only considered such an offensive if three factors were true: Western weapons were vastly superior to Russian weaponry, Western-trained soldiers greatly surpassed their Russian counterparts, and Russian morale was abysmal. However, he finds no evidence to support these assumptions, rendering the prospects of a successful Ukrainian offensive highly unlikely.
Despite initial expectations of crumbling Russian morale and significant breakthroughs, the reality on the ground tells a different story. The fighting remains concentrated in the gray zone, with Russian resistance unyielding. Moreover, Ukrainian forces continue to sustain heavy casualties in both personnel and vehicles.
The Ukrainian offensive is far from over, with the main attack force comprising approximately 600 tanks and an equal number of Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) concentrated around Orikhiv. However, the outlook appears grim for the Ukrainian offensive if their vanguard is decimated before reaching the Russian main defense lines. The likelihood is high that Ukraine will deplete its primary forces while attempting to breach several Russian defense lines, leaving them incapable of exploiting any minor successes and ultimately forcing a withdrawal.
In summary, the most probable outcome of the Ukrainian offensive is limited territorial gains achieved at an exorbitant cost. Valtersson poignantly likens the situation to Kursk 2.0, referencing the infamous World War II battle known for its immense casualties and inconclusive results.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Mikael Valtersson, a former officer of the Swedish Armed Forces, Air Defence, former defence politician, and chief of staff for the Sweden Democrats. These views do not necessarily reflect the official stance of the publication.