The counteroffensive continues with some reporting about earlier actions that include partisan activity and fire control. Using ground to air missile defense systems as artillery suggests the Russians may be running short of missiles as there are reports about personnel shortages diverting Russian recruiting to the Wagner mercenary group.
Not all of Ukraine’s attacks on Russian positions end up circulating on social media like the recent strikes on what Ukraine says are over 30 Russian ammunition depots in the occupied east and south.
There are other, much more discrete operations that Ukraine carries out deep into Russian-occupied territories.
Among these low-profile operations was the destruction of a Wagner Group base 45 kilometers east of the front line in Russian-occupied Kadiivka in Luhansk Oblast in early June.
Russia deployed the Wagner Group, a Russian-controlled mercenary group operating at the Kremlin’s request around the world, to eastern Ukraine amid its military’s “heavy losses,” the U.K. Defense Ministry reported on March 28.
“I was one of the first to find out that they had arrived and were stationed at the local stadium,” Oleh, a resident of Kadiivka, told the Kyiv Independent. (Editor’s note: The name has been changed to protect his identity.)
Living in a Russian-occupied city for the past eight years, Oleh has been cooperating with Ukrainian authorities, constantly providing them with intelligence.
“I passed this information to the right people,” Oleh said.
As a result, the Ukrainian military hit the base with artillery on June 9, killing anywhere between 50-200 mercenaries according to different estimates and destroying their weapons depot.
The Kyiv Independent has recreated the events of the operation based on conversations with local civilians and sources in intelligence agencies.
Recently, Oleh has had more and more reasons to celebrate. In his town alone, Ukrainian troops have hit six ammunition depots so far, according to Oleh.
The last attack occurred on July 14, when according to Russian-controlled proxies, Ukraine hit Kadiivka with HIMARS. An ammunition depot caught fire as a result.
Oleh says the new long-range artillery provided by the West is significantly reducing the opportunity for Russian troops to conduct attacks and shelling of Ukrainian territory.
Meanwhile, Oleh and others continue their resistance by helping Ukraine far behind the front lines.
Ukrainian officials are increasingly acknowledging Ukrainian counteroffensive operations in Kherson Oblast. Kherson Oblast Administration Advisor Serhiy Khlan stated on July 24 that Ukrainian forces are undertaking unspecified counteroffensive actions in Kherson Oblast. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on July 23 that Ukrainian forces are advancing “step by step” in Kherson Oblast. His statement does not make clear whether he is referring to small, ongoing Ukrainian advances in Kherson Oblast or a broader counteroffensive. Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported on July 24 that Ukrainian forces are firing on Russian transport facilities in Kherson Oblast to impede maneuverability and logistics support. This activity is consistent with support to an active counteroffensive or conditions-setting for an upcoming counteroffensive. Khlan also said that Ukrainian strikes on Russian-controlled bridges around Kherson City only aim to prevent Russian forces from moving equipment into the city without stopping food and other essential supplies from entering the city.
Subordinate Main Effort—Southern Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk Oblasts (Russian objective: Encircle Ukrainian forces in Eastern Ukraine and capture the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack northwest of Slovyansk on July 24. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops failed to take control of Bohorodychne, 20 km northwest of Slovyansk. Russian forces continued artillery strikes on settlements southeast of Izyum along the Kharkiv-Donetsk Oblast border; shelled Krasnopillya, Dolyna, Dibrovne, and Adamivka; and struck additional settlements southwest of Izyum around Barvinkove.
Russian forces continued ground attacks east of Siversk on July 24. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian forces unsuccessfully attempted to advance west of Verkhnokamyanka and Bilohorivka toward Verkhnokamyanske, 5 km due east of Siversk. The Russian Ministry of Defense indicated that Russian counter-battery fire focused on suppressing Ukrainian firing points to the east of Siversk, which is consistent with Ukrainian reports of continued Russian artillery fire on settlements in the area between the Luhansk Oblast border and Siversk.
Russian forces continued ground attacks south of Bakhmut on July 24. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops are continuing to fight for control of the Vuhledar Power Plant and Novoluhanske and that Russian forces failed to advance from Roty to Semihirya, about 20 km southeast of Bakhmut. The Ukrainian General Staff noted that Russian forces are trying to create favorable conditions to capture the Vuhledar Power Plant. Previous Russian attempts to advance from south of Bakhmut have largely been stymied by the water features in the Svitlodarsk area, which indicates that Russian forces likely hope to gain a foothold on the northern bank of the Vuhlehirske Reservoir and advance northward on Bakhmut across relatively even cross-country terrain.
Russian forces did not make any confirmed ground attacks toward Avdiivka and fired on Ukrainian positions along the Avdiivka-Donetsk city frontline.
Supporting Effort #1—Kharkiv City (Russian objective: Defend ground lines of communication (GLOCs) to Izyum and prevent Ukrainian forces from reaching the Russian border)
Russian forces did not conduct any ground assaults and continued to conduct air and artillery strikes along the Kharkiv City Axis on July 24. Russian forces conducted airstrikes on Verkhnii Saltiv and Mospanove, approximately 55 km southeast of Kharkiv City, and launched tube and rocket artillery strikes on Kharkiv City and settlements to the north, northeast, and southeast on July 24.
Russian missiles struck the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on the Black Sea on Saturday, a day after officials heralded a new deal meant to resume grain exports from the country as Moscow's invasion reaches the 150-day mark, AP reports.
Why it matters: The strikes on Ukraine’s largest port cast a pall over the deal Ukrainian, Russian, United Nations and Turkish officials reached in an effort to help ease a global food crisis that’s deepened as the conflict has worn on.
- Two Russian cruise missiles struck the port’s infrastructure, AP reports. Ukrainian air defense systems stopped two others.
- Ukrainian military officials in the region did not immediately report the extent of the damage or how many casualties the strikes caused.
What they’re saying: U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres "unequivocally condemns reported strikes today in the Ukrainian port of Odesa," a spokesperson for the secretary-general said Saturday, AFP reported.
- "Full implementation [of the grain export deal] by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey is imperative."
- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the attack on Saturday, tweeting that the attack "undermines the effort to bring food to the hungry and the credibility of Russia’s commitments to the deal finalized yesterday to allow Ukrainian exports."
Op-Ed: What game theory can tell us about the war in Ukraine
A key concept in game theory is “backward induction”— looking ahead to the potential outcomes that may arise in the future (the so-called game tree) and then working backward to determine what the optimal actions are for each party to take today.
What does the game tree look like in the next phase of Russia’s war in Ukraine? Russia launched its invasion at the worst possible time from a military logistics point of view, during Ukraine’s infamous muddy season. But after an initial retreat from Kyiv, Russia has made slow but steady gains in eastern Ukraine, and conditions will be ideal for Russia in the coming winter months. The winter season will also be a time of strategic vulnerability for Europe, given its reliance on Russian natural gas for heating.
From this perspective, time is on Putin’s side. Anticipating that his best chance for victory may come this winter, Putin has an incentive to withhold Russia’s natural gas now and push Europe into the most precarious possible position economically, regardless of the short-term costs to Russia.
What does this imply for the alliance of countries supporting Ukraine’s independence? Clearly, the way to induce Putin to stop his war of aggression now is to make him believe that there is no way that he can possibly win six months down the road. And the way to make him believe that he cannot win in six months is to move more than enough heavy military equipment into Ukraine even sooner.
This brings us to another important lesson from game theory and behavioral economics: that beliefs play a critical role in determining how each party will act — even when those beliefs are not 100% correct. In the context of Russia’s war in Ukraine, there is only one reason why the invasion continues: Vladimir Putin believes that Russia may emerge victorious.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has been described as a “war of attrition” — where two adversaries vie for a valuable asset, and each incurs a cost while their struggle continues and must decide how long to keep struggling and when to give up. Beliefs are extremely important in a war of attrition. When both sides have equal resources and equal determination to win, a war of attrition can continue for a very long time, inflicting massive losses on both sides.
However, if one side in such a stalemate can persuade the other that it will never give up, then the other side has an incentive to back down immediately in order to avoid wasting its resources in a fruitless struggle. In a war of attrition, the real game is therefore often one of psychology and competing resolve, to project one’s own strength and endurance and believe in the other side’s weakness.
Putin has thus far failed to project an image of overwhelming strength, but his disdain for the West and his belief in our weakness and irresolution are well known. Although Putin may be wrong to underestimate us, his error ironically strengthens his hand in the current conflict, as it gives him the hope he needs to continue the fight. Unfortunately, this means that peace in Europe will not be restored until the West shows the kind of strength and resolve that Putin does not expect.
Beliefs are also the key to strategies surrounding escalation. Some people fear that providing Ukraine with advanced weapons systems will anger Putin and lead to a ladder of escalation that could potentially even result in nuclear war. This is a legitimate fear, but here too we need to think through the full game tree. Does Russian escalation diminish when we contemplate appeasement? Not necessarily. It is in exactly that sort of situation, when Putin sees a path to victory but needs the West to stay out of it, that he would benefit from making extreme threats or escalating to signal his seriousness. If, on the other hand, Putin can be made to believe that the alliance against him will remain strong and committed no matter what, his potential benefits from escalation erode significantly.
Finally, consider what will happen if we don’t do enough to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia. There are two possibilities here.
The first is that NATO will be drawn into direct involvement. If Ukraine’s manpower declines too much, there may not be enough skilled Ukrainian fighters left, and NATO weapons will need to be operated by NATO personnel, assuming the West doesn’t capitulate entirely. The potential for escalation would arguably be far greater in this case than if Ukraine is armed faster.
The second possibility is that Russia takes Ukraine. This would leave Putin in a stronger position, with Ukraine’s land, industrial production and natural resources (including food and energy) in Russia’s hands. What will Putin’s beliefs look like in this branch of the game tree? If we allow Russia to take Ukraine, will Putin be emboldened to expand further, say by attempting to invade Lithuania? Will he expect his threats of nuclear escalation to continue to provide unstoppable leverage?
Even if Putin is wrong to believe that he can continue conquering the lands of Ancient Rus, letting Ukraine fall gives him ample reason to entertain such incorrect beliefs — and puts Europe at risk of continued confrontations. The actions of the Baltic states, from their provision of weapons to Ukraine to Lithuania’s stance on Kaliningrad, reveal their beliefs on this. They know that they will be far from safe if Ukraine falls.