The past two days have seen mounting indications that Ukraine is redoubling its efforts to expel Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had repelled a major offensive in the Donetsk region, claiming in the process that it had killed hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers, destroyed 28 tanks and more than a hundred armored vehicles.
On her Telegram channel, she said, “Having suffered heavy losses the day before, the Kiev regime reorganized the remnants of the 23rd and 31st Mechanized Brigades into separate consolidated units, which continued offensive operations.”
Ukraine rejected Russia’s allegations. But hours after his officials said some offensive operations were under way, President Volodymyr Zelensky in his nightly televised address Monday welcomed progress he said Ukrainian forces were making, including around the eastern city of Bakhmut, where fighting has been raging for months. “I am grateful to every soldier, to all our defenders, men and women, who today gave us the news we have been waiting for,” said Zelensky.
But the Ukrainian leader refrained from announcing the launch of the long-awaited counter-offensive – which was originally expected in the spring. Instead, government officials in Kyiv have been careful to describe the multiple attacks reported along the front line as “local actions.”
We are continuing the defense that started on February 24, 2022. The defensive operation includes everything, including counter-offensive actions. Therefore, in some areas we are heading to offensive actions,” Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Malyar, said in a post on Telegram. “Fighting at the local level continues,” she added.
Obviously, there has been a significant increase in operations by Ukrainians over the past 48 hours. Few military observers would argue that the war is now entering a new phase. So, has the long-awaited campaign finally begun?
The answer seems to be yes and no.
The recent attacks so far appear to be a precursor to a large-scale work that has yet to begin. No convincing evidence has been presented to date to suggest that the dozens of NATO-trained and equipped counterattack brigades have been used in these recent attacks or have been forcefully deployed to the battlefield. The 23rd and 31st mechanized brigades mentioned by the Russian Ministry of Defense are not part of the new army, which was training for a large-scale offensive.
Some of the attacks along five separate lines in southeast Donetsk appear to have been reconnaissance forays, testing Russian reflexes and capabilities and looking for loopholes. However, the Ukrainians already claim to have had some success.
The commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, General Oleksandr Sersky, said on Tuesday that the Russian forces around Bakhmut could not withstand the onslaught of the Ukrainian army and had retreated up to two kilometers.
“Despite the enemy’s fierce resistance, our air assault and mechanized units succeeded in advancing” between 300 meters and 1 kilometer “in different parts of the front line,” Serhiy Chervaty, spokesman for the Eastern Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said on Ukrainian television.
And it’s not just that the Ukrainians are saying a series of breaches in the Russian defences. Many radical Russian military bloggers on social media have bemoaned the advances made by Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut, north of Donetsk, and in the village of Novodonetsk.
Among them is Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence officer and paramilitary commander who played a key role in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass. “The enemy managed to storm our position,” he said on a social networking site. According to Girkin, there is no doubt that the counterattack has finally begun.
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