Though Ukrainian officials claim they have so far regained control of about 50 square miles of land in the country's south from the Russian forces, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted that the offensive has been moving "slower than desired."
This is because Russia has spent months hardening fortifications and positioning reinforcements in their bid to protect territory seized since the start of its special military operations in February 2022. However, military strategists advised that is "way too early" for people to draw conclusions about Ukraine's success.
"The Russians made good use of the months they had to prepare their defenses, especially the minefields," said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of U.S. Army Europe. "It's going to be tough getting through that."
But he is positive Kyiv will be able to penetrate. "It's just getting underway. Most of Ukraine's army is not even in the fight yet," he said.
A U.S. military official, who spoke anonymously to discuss sensitive battlefield assessments, echoed Hodge's stand, saying that Ukraine's military was "fighting through the initial security zone" before hurling the bulk of its manpower at Russia's main lines. "You don't commit your whole force until you have an idea of where the areas are, where you're going to find the most success," the official said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said the recaptured areas, including at least a half-dozen villages near the borders of the eastern Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions, represent just a tiny fraction of the vast area that the Russia troops control, which still amounts to roughly a fifth of the country. According to experts, the limited scale of the current gains is a reminder of the challenges Zelensky faces in his effort to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to reconsider his desire to cement control over much of Ukraine.
"Everything with which they fight and everything that they use is brought in from the outside," the Russian president told the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum recently. "You can't fight for long like that." He also reported that Western tanks, including German-donated Leopards, have been destroyed and that Ukraine has lost 923 tanks and armored vehicles since June 4. He further warned that F-16 fighter jets, supplied by European nations, "will also burn."
From the 600-mile front line, Russia has positioned up to 360,000 troops inside Ukraine. And, unlike last fall when Kyiv was able to retake major cities in a two-pronged push, Putin's men had time to build up three or four layers of defenses.
Also, Russians had mined more than 77,000 square miles of its territory, constituting the outer layer of its defenses, Ukrainian officials reported. They also pointed out Kyiv's lack of air superiority and the three-to-one offensive-to-defensive troop ratio that Western militaries typically want for this kind of push. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft give the Kremlin another advantage along the line of contact.
On the other hand, Western countries are continuing to supply Ukraine with weapons, including British Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which have increased Kyiv's reach into Russian-held territory. President Joe Biden's administration is also planning to supply Ukraine with more sophisticated weaponry, including the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). Just recently, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution calling for the missiles to be provided.
Biden has also vowed to spend another $500 million in military aid, including dozens of armored vehicles to augment or replace those damaged or destroyed. (Related: U.S. announces a further $2.1 billion in military assistance for Ukraine, bringing overall total to $40 billion.)
William Taylor, a former U.S. diplomat in Ukraine's capital, said Ukraine has a chance to recover all occupied territories if it gets the right supplies. "A lot depends on what we provide them. We can affect the probabilities," he said.
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