Since Ukraine kicked off its highly anticipated offensive on the 4th June, it has been making relatively marginal gains against what Volodymr Zelenskyy has described as “very tough resistance”. This was, to some extent, to be expected: the Russians have spent months constructing heavy, multi-layered defence lines in preparation for the long-telegraphed operation. Moreover, Russia’s military has improved tactically, while its mobilisation and recruitment campaigns have largely addressed manpower shortages.
Ukraine is attacking in multiple areas such as Zaporizhzhia and the Donetsk People’s Republic, with battles continuing along the line running northwards. Strikes are also being delivered against weapons depots and logistics centres deep into Russian-controlled territory.
But despite claims from Deputy Ukrainian Defence Minister Hanna Maliar that the Ukrainian military has registered “tactical successes” at each point of attack, the gains have not been significant. Take Bakhmut as an example: there is the possibility of the Russians abandoning the city if Ukraine can successfully roll back the flanks. But the concentration of forces in the area makes this a steep task.
When looking at the territorial control maps, Ukraine has made minor advances at the cost of a sizeable amount of men, armour, and equipment. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tried to downplay this fact, alleging “the Russians have shown us [those] same five vehicles about 1,000 times from 10 different angles”. However, the scale of the destruction has been well documented on both Twitter and Telegram.
In the lead-up to the offensive, Russia launched an intense, weeks-long strategic air campaign targeting air defence systems, arms depots, artillery pieces, radar equipment, aviation, troop concentrations, command centres, and more. This may be factoring into the lack of sufficient cover for exposed Ukrainian contingents rushing through mostly flat and open steppe lands in the south. Russia’s air superiority has likewise played a major role creating difficulties for advancing Ukrainian forces.
It should be noted that this operation is still young, and Ukraine has a lot of personnel, equipment, and armour left. The remaining offensive capacity could very well end up grinding down and punching through stubborn Russian defences. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted that Ukraine has lots left in the tank, saying: “I cannot say that the offensive has got bogged down. All I can say is that the counteroffensive attempts that have been made so far failed. But the offensive potential of the Kiev’s regime is still there”.
As the counteroffensive enters its third week, Ukraine is on the clock. With the next Nato summit taking place on the 11th July in Vilnius, Zelenskyy needs to prove to his allies that Ukraine is doing well enough to justify the current level of aid. Furthermore, there is a limited window by which to sever or cut deep into Russia’s land bridge to Crimea, and with heavy losses ongoing, this is turning out to be increasingly difficult.