Just weeks after Ukrainian forces liberated the city of Kherson, the question on everyone’s mind about the Ukrainian counteroffensive campaign is where Kiev will strike, where Russia’s next defeat will be, as winter weather begins to set in. install.
Approaching Russian forces in the Zaporozhye region could be the next logical step for Ukrainian forces. A victory in Zaporozhye would help Ukraine cut Russia’s land bridge to Crimea, the peninsula that Vladimir Putin illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014 and has occupied since then. Russia’s grip on Crimea is even more vulnerable now that the Kherson – a key foothold north of the peninsula – is back in Ukrainian hands.
In apparent anticipation of a new Ukrainian offensive, Russian troops have been working to establish outposts and trenches near the border with Crimea and in Donetsk and Luhansk, according to the Associated Press.
The Ukrainians are preparing the trap
While it’s impossible to predict with certainty the next move, Ukrainian forces could very well be working to surprise again, Jim Townsend, former assistant secretary of defense (DASD) for European and NATO policy, told The Daily Beast.
“They’re very intelligent people and that’s one of the reasons they do so well, they’re unpredictable,” Townsend said, suggesting the Ukrainians could rely on spreading misinformation to “mislead” the Russians. “Ukraine keeps us guessing. And that’s great because it means they’re also keeping the Russians in the dark.”
Now, rumors surrounding Zaporozhye are fueling other rumors: that Ukraine may be planning a surprise counteroffensive elsewhere and may just be creating false leads to fool the Russians.
Ukraine also used the element of surprise to its advantage. Earlier this year, a series of reports emerged that Ukrainian forces were preparing a counter-offensive against Kherson in the south, when in fact behind the scenes they were preparing a campaign for Kharkiv in the northeast. This attack forced the Russians to retreat from the area, catching them almost completely off guard.
Other areas that Ukraine may be interested in releasing further could include Energodar, home to the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. Crimea is also on the list of targets in the near future, a Ukrainian official in charge of Crimea told The Daily Beast. The liberation of Kherson, just north of Crimea, was a key step Ukrainian forces needed to take before they could consider moving to retake Crimea, which could fall as early as spring, the official said.
The advantage of the Russians
But the Russians may have another key advantage: they can continue to flood the field with troops.
“Manpower is still on the side of the Russians … They have the ability to supply more soldiers than Ukraine does,” Townsend said. “Ukraine cannot afford to be drawn into a fight where many of its best fighters are killed.”
The Ukrainians would do well to consider a plan that focuses on corralling Russians from the north and south and cutting off Russian supply and logistics routes, Manning told The Daily Beast. This plan, instead of seizing massive swaths of territory, could isolate Russian forces while they are already on the defensive.
The Russians, isolated and left to suffer from the cold
“The Ukrainians should try to get them from both sides … from the southern front and the northern front,” said Manning, who also previously worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency. “And then try to cut the lines of communication… the logistics lines coming from Russia and especially from Crimea… They can do that without having to occupy too much territory.”
In the short term, there may not be many major battles because the Ukrainians could just play a waiting game for the Russians after they have isolated them, Manning said.
“Really, all you have to do is isolate the Russians at this point and let them freeze to death,” Manning told The Daily Beast. “Isolate them and then let them suffer,” urges the expert.
Whatever campaign comes next, it may not be as big as the one in Kherson or Kharkiv, Townsend agreed.
“Unlike this summer, this time it will be harder. So we know that whatever they do, it’s not going to be easy,” Townsend said.
Frost, the signal to start the offensive
And although some US officials have suggested that the cold winter months ahead could lead to a slowdown in the war, movements may become easier than they have been in recent months once the mud freezes. When the ground gets frozen enough, it can be the signal that a campaign could begin in earnest, Townsend said.
“It will be sooner rather than later, because I don’t think the Ukrainians have time. They don’t want to wait for the Russians to recover and develop, they don’t want to wait for the Russians to rebuild their munitions or do other things to make them harder to beat,” Townsend said. “Ukraine wants to maintain the momentum, to keep moving, to continue,” the expert says.
HIMARS missiles hit strategic Russian targets in the occupied territories
The Ukrainian army destroyed several Russian bases in the occupied territories with HIMARS missiles. Two airports in Crimea were targeted, as well as a barracks in the city of Melitopol. There is a tourist complex there, where soldiers from the Wagner paramilitary group, as well as Chechens from the elite troops of Ramzan Kadîrov, would have been accommodated.
The media in Moscow admitted the attack, but announced that only two soldiers had lost their lives in the bombing, while the Ukrainians claim that it would be several hundred.
Overnight, the Ukrainians launched massive missile attacks on several Russian bases in the Crimean peninsula and the Zaporizhia region.
In the city of Melitopol, an important logistics center for the Russians, a military base installed in a tourist complex was destroyed in a missile attack.
Locals reported at least 10 loud explosions, and according to Ukrainian officials, the death toll is in the hundreds. The wounded were sent to Crimea, because the hospitals in the city are full.
Other Ukrainian attacks took place in Crimea, where the Saki and Belbek military airports near Sevastopol were targeted, but other bases in Simferopol, Yalta and the city of Dzankoi were also hit by missiles.
Faced with increasingly bold Ukrainian attacks on Russian bases, Kremlin propagandists appear to admit that the Russian military is incapable of providing air defense against Ukrainian missiles.
Russian propagandists: “The air defense system has been strengthened around these bases, but it is impossible to solve the key problem of creating an integrated defense across the country in such a short time.”
On the eastern front, the Russians continue their assaults against the Ukrainian defensive lines around the city of Bahmut, which has been continuously bombarded for more than 6 months.
The huge efforts of the Russian units, who are trying to break the front and capture the city, show the determination of the Kremlin to achieve a victory here, at any cost. It would be a first step forward after months of defeats on all fronts in Ukraine. For the people who are left here, every day is a nightmare.