Ukraine’s Limited Advances Raise Concerns About Breakthrough in Counteroffensive Against Russian Forces, Officials Say

Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces is making limited advances but has yet to employ larger-scale operations that could lead to a breakthrough, according to officials and analysts. Concerns have been raised among Ukraine’s backers about the country’s ability to match the finite supply of munitions and arms. Ukrainian forces are currently focusing on weakening Russian defenses by firing artillery and missiles, as well as sending small teams of sappers into minefields. However, the slow pace of progress has raised questions about whether Ukraine can deliver a powerful blow.

The United States and other nations have provided mine-clearing equipment and trained Ukrainian troops on integrated offensive maneuvers. The goal is to breach Russian obstacles quickly, although the situation is challenging as Ukrainian forces face intense attacks from antitank munitions and armed Russian drones. Ukrainian military leaders argue that they must protect the lives of their soldiers and cannot use “meat-grinder tactics” like the Russians. As a result, Ukraine has deployed only a fraction of its trained brigades in the current campaign.

Ukraine has liberated about 250 square kilometers since the beginning of the offensive, which is slower than expected. Unlike a previous counteroffensive, Russian forces had months to prepare this time, planting mines, digging trenches, and positioning anti-armor and drone units. Russian forces also have no major obstacles at their back, unlike in previous conflicts. Russia has been able to ship fresh troops to the front lines, aided by Putin’s accelerated mobilization at home.

Ukrainian attempts to breach Russian defenses with armored units early in the offensive were met with overwhelming artillery and missile fire, resulting in significant losses. As a result, Ukrainian commanders have shifted to more low-profile advances involving small groups on foot, including sappers to disable enemy mines and infantry teams with surface-to-air missiles. While these tactics may minimize losses, they also come with the trade-off of slower advances and less opportunity for rapid breakthroughs.

Ukraine recently received authorization from President Biden to receive U.S. cluster munitions, providing additional ammunition to support the campaign. However, limited training on combined-arms tactics and the lack of air support have hindered Ukraine’s ability to mount larger-scale operations. Ukraine’s top military officer has made urgent appeals for Western air power, while the Biden administration has permitted other countries to transfer their own U.S.-origin planes to Ukraine. A European-led training effort is expected to begin next month.

U.S. officials believe that Ukraine will eventually push through minefields and close in on Russia’s main defensive lines. However, caution is necessary to avoid excessive use of artillery while sorting through the minefields. Western jets are seen as having little utility in the current fight due to Russia’s extensive air defenses. The focus remains on applying pressure in a combined-arms approach. Despite the challenges, Ukrainian officials remain determined to succeed in the face of the ongoing conflict.