Why isn’t Ukraine’s Counteroffensive a Failed Expectation?

September 20, 2023
Ukraine has faced various reproaches in the context of the current counter-offensive.
Photo credit: General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

They have been raging from slow progress and failed expectations to the inevitability of a protracted war.

Valentyn Badrak, the Director of the Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies, in conjunction with UkraineWorld discussed what Ukraine needs to make significant advancements in liberating territories and what is holding Ukraine back.

The Geopolitical Aspect

The geopolitical context has influenced the level of preparation for Ukraine's counteroffensive this summer, as well as its pace. One of the most serious issues for Ukraine is that the West, particularly the United States as NATO's leader, lacks a geopolitical solution for Russia. Certain fears appear to prevent it from destroying Putin's regime. Aregime that represents an existential threat to the Ukrainian nation.

Western intelligence tends to draw erroneous conclusions about Russia, even having exclusive information. Their hope is on the weakening of the Russian Federation, but Russia can’t be weakened enough.

It is necessary to destroy the regime in order to change the situation. And if the West ensures it, Ukraine can achieve it.

Even at the opening of the last “Ramstein” meeting on September 19, the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin noted that time works against Putin, whereas, in fact, it works against Ukraine.

Furthermore, as reported in the Western media, the US and a number of European NATO states oppose the liberation of Crimea and Donbas, which has a direct impact on the supply of weapons to Ukraine and the possibility of their use.

The West simply tolerated Ukraine's attack on occupied Crimea, but there was no direct support for these actions.

Consequently, Ukraine was not sufficiently equipped to launch a counteroffensive. The actual level of provision was approximately 70% of what was required, and demining equipment, critical for moving forward, was only 15% of what was needed. Ukrainians are still forced to use demining probes, a WWII-era weapon.

In such a situation, Ukraine's only option would be "meat grinder" assaults, which, fortunately, the Ukrainian military command refused as they understand that the greatest threat is the loss of trained and motivated Ukrainian patriots. And faster liberation of territories or access to the sea does not necessitate the loss of thousands of Ukrainian defenders' lives.

On the other hand, the West already understands that it is impossible for Ukraine to stop because Russia will not only build more powerful defense lines, but will also prepare for the next offensive.

The West now understands the shortcomings of their actions because Putin was able even to work around sanctions. Russia has increased weapon production as well as purchased them from allies such as North Korea. But it's not just about ammunition; it's also about missiles.

The Technical Aspect

ATACMS tactical missile systems are Ukraine's first requirement for a successful advance. These are ballistic missiles that are extremely difficult to shoot down with Russian air defense. Furthermore, since they are launched by HIMARS, which Ukrainians actively use, they do not require any additional training. This is a high-precision sniper artillery, which will also increase the range of use.

The US decision to supply ATACMS would serve as an incentive for Germany to unblock Taurus missile supplies. Ukraine requires them to destroy the Russian military infrastructure in Crimea.

The liberation of Crimea from Russian military groups would, in turn, hasten Putin's regime's demise.

Another important aspect is aviation, namely F-16 jets. According to the Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies' calculations, if F-16s had been quickly transferred to Ukraine in 2023, they would have had at least 2-3 squadrons ready by October.

Obtaining these weapons would allow Ukraine to cut off Russian air support while also ensuring a counteroffensive in accordance with NATO principles, in which operations take place not only on the front line, but also at the second and third echelons.

It is significant in light of Russia's powerful layered defense with high levels of engineered barriers and minefields. It became one of the biggest challenges for Ukrainian advancement.

Thus, Ukraine hopes not only to maintain its level of support, but also to see qualitative changes.

The West's attention has already shifted to 2024. All the results Ukraine counted on in 2023 can’t be accomplished. The West appears to be ready to accelerate the decision on ATACMS supplies and hasten the F-16 transfer process.

Ukraine has also made strategic errors that have contributed to the current situation. From 2014 until the start of the full-scale invasion in 2022, Ukraine paid insufficient attention to the development of its own military production, which eventually led to its reliance on supplies from partners.

Fortunately, the missile program is already under way and is progressing rapidly. There are initial steps being taken towards creating an army of drones. The Defense Ministry launched an accelerator to accelerate the implementation of Ukrainians' innovative solutions.

Thus, the mistakes made by the West and Ukraine’s political-military leadership (not the military command, which has been making the impossible possible), means that the potential of 2023 has largely gone unrealized.

Valentyn Badrak, the Director of the Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies