Los Angeles Times
Ukrainian attacks force Russia to divert its troops
Even as Moscow’s war machine grinds across Ukraine’s east, trying to achieve the Kremlin’s goal of securing full control over the country’s industrial heartland, Ukrainian forces are scaling up attacks to reclaim territory in the Russian-occupied south.
Ukraine has used U.S.supplied rocket launchers to strike bridges and military infrastructure in the south, forcing Russia to divert its forces from the Donbas region in the east to counter the new threat.
With the war in Ukraine now in its sixth month, the coming weeks may prove decisive.
In Odesa on Monday, meanwhile, the first ship carrying Ukrainian grain set out under an internationally brokered deal to unblock the embattled country's agricultural exports and ease a growing global food crisis.
Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil, with the fertile Black Sea region long known as the breadbasket of Europe.
In eastern Ukraine, the bulk of Russian and Ukrainian military assets are concentrated in the Donbas, the industrial region of mines and factories, both sides hope to make gains elsewhere.
Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians from the territory they have seized since the start of the invasion, including the southern region of Kherson and part of the Zaporizhzhia region, while Moscow has pledged to hold on to the occupied areas and take more ground around the country.
The Donbas consists of Luhansk province, now fully controlled by Russia, and Donetsk province, about half of which is in Moscow’s hands.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said that, by stepping up attacks in the south, Kyiv has forced Moscow to spread its forces.
“The Russian military command has been put before a dilemma: to try to press the offensive in the Donetsk region or build up defenses in the south,” Zhdanov said. “It’s going to be difficult for them to perform both tasks simultaneously for a long time.”
He noted that rather than trying to mount a massive, all-out counteroffensive, the Ukrainians have sought to undermine the Russian military in the south with a series of strikes on its munitions and fuel depots and other key sites.
“It doesn’t have to be a head-on attack,” Zhdanov said.
Moscow-backed local officials in Ukraine’s east and south have talked about holding votes on joining Russia as early as September. Those plans hinge on Russia’s ability to win full control of those areas by then.
“The Kremlin’s chief goal is to force Kyiv to sit down for talks, secure the existing line of contact and hold referenda in the autumn,” said Mykola Sunhurovskyi of the Razumkov Center, a Kyivbased think tank.
He noted that Western weapons have boosted Ukraine’s capabilities, allowing Ukrainian forces to reach targets far behind the front lines with a high degree of precision.
Ukraine has received about a dozen American-built multiple-rocket launchers and has used them to strike Russian ammunition depots essential for Moscow to maintain its edge in firepower. The HIMARS, or high-mobility artillery rocket system, has a range of 50 miles, enabling the Ukrainians to hit the Russians from beyond the reach of most of the enemy’s artillery.
“It’s a serious advantage,” Sunhurovskyi said. “The Ukrainians have started dealing precision strikes on Russian depots, command posts, railway stations and bridges, destroying logistical chains and undermining the Russian military capability.”
The Ukrainian strikes on munitions storage sites have caught the Russian army off guard, forcing it to move materiel to scattered locations farther from combat areas, lengthening supply lines, reducing the invaders’ edge in firepower and helping to slow Moscow’s offensive in the east.
“They’ve got to get everything out to smaller, more dispersed stockpiles,” said Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who heads Sibylline, a strategic advisory firm. “These are all real irritants that slow Russia down. They’ve suffered the hit to the tempo of artillery fire, which was really key before.”
Crump said the Russian military had underestimated the threat posed by HIMARS and had left its ammunition depots exposed in known locations.