Ukraine launched a major counteroffensive in early June to push Russian forces out of their occupied territories. They launched attacks at three points along the frontline, about 600 miles or 965 kilometers long.
The area south-east of the city of Zaporizhia is strategically the most important. A successful attack on this side of the Sea of Azov could cut off Russian supply routes. Because this section connects the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don with Crimea.
Not much progress was made on this front except in the area around the villages of Robotyn and Verbov in the Zaporizhia region. If Ukraine could cut off this main supply route, it would be impossible to sustain a large Russian army in Crimea. Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014.
But despite significant setbacks, there is some convincing evidence that Ukrainian troops have breached Russian defenses along the southern front.
The BBC has verified nine social media videos captured along the frontline near Verbov. In the videos, Ukrainian forces are seen breaching Russian defenses north of Verbov.
However, these scenes captured in the video do not mean that Ukraine has taken control of the area. So far only Ukrainian infantry have been able to break through Russian defenses. A fleet of Ukrainian armored vehicles was not seen retaking the occupied ground in this breach.
Where is the obstacle to progress quickly in Ukraine?
Moscow had anticipated this counterattack long ago, and has spent the past few months building one of the world’s most powerful multi-layered defense systems.
Satellite imagery showed Russia preparing to deploy artillery and infantry wherever possible, including rows of interlocking barriers, trenches, bunkers and land mine sites. Large areas of landmines initially slowed Ukraine’s advance. These minefields are packed with ammunition, with up to five mines per square meter in some places.
Ukraine’s first attempt in June quickly met with failure. Then the modern weapons they had, supplied by Western allies, were damaged and burned. Ukrainian infantry were similarly immobilized, suffering terrible casualties.
Kiev has since often had to clear these mines on foot, if not at night, under fire. So far Ukraine is moving very slowly. Ukrainian armored vehicles remain vulnerable to Russian mines, drones and anti-tank missiles.
In a video analyzed by BBC Verify, a Challenger-Two armored vehicle provided by Britain was attacked by a robot. However, once significant areas of landmines are cleared and Russian forces are suppressed, Ukraine will be able to advance in numbers.
What is the next target of Ukraine’s counterattack?
King’s College London War Studies Department Dr. “The problem that the Ukrainians have now is that they have to try to increase the number of troops,” said Marina Miron.
Meanwhile, Russia has regained much of its power, and its position is now so strong and powerful that Russian forces can retake territory occupied by Ukraine.
The BBC has geo-located a Russian drone video which suggests Russia’s elite fleet of VDV aircraft is now deployed near the town of Verbov. By which the risk of any counter-attack by Ukraine can be dealt with immediately.
Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst at RUSI, a London-based research firm, said: ‘On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces are facing resistance from Russian forces. In addition to shelling, Russian forces are known to be using electronic warfare extensively, along with drone strikes and strong defensive structures. It aims to disrupt Ukraine’s signaling system and use of drones.
Ukraine claims they may have advanced to a little more than ten percent of the coast, but the actual success rate is even lower. Meanwhile, the Russian forces were tired and perhaps a little demoralized after three months of heavy attacks. Also, most of the long-range attacks have been carried out targeting Russian supply routes.
Now if Ukraine can break through Russian defenses and reach the city of Tokmak, they can bring Crimea and Russian rail and road supply routes within their borders. If they can do that, this counterattack could turn out to be a significant success.
With this, the war may not be over, but it may give Ukraine a slightly better start to 2024. And the war may be longer, but this advance in Ukraine at this point could greatly hamper Moscow’s war effort, and put Ukraine in a stronger position when peace talks begin.
But Kiev has very little time on its hands. Because the rainy season will come in a few weeks. The roads would be covered in mud, which would hinder the progress of the troops.
In addition, the progress of Ukraine is closely linked with the US presidential election. If Republicans win the country, U.S. military aid to Ukraine could drop dramatically.
President Putin knows that until then he will have to take a hard line. And the Ukrainians know that they must succeed in this counteroffensive.