Visegrad 24 is writing that the long-awaited Ukrainian winter counter-offensive is coming soon, as temperatures drop beginning tomorrow (January 7) and will leave the muddy ground frozen solid by January 9. Putin, meanwhile, has announced a unilateral ceasefire beginning at roughly the same time, coinciding with the Orthodox Christmas holiday. Given that Russia didn’t give a rat’s ass for Ukrainians celebrating Christmas (for example, shelling Kherson and launching missile strikes on Christmas Eve), and Ukraine has been chomping at the bit to smash Russia’s army once the weather got colder, don’t look for the Ukrainians to give Putin any pause. If fact, Ukraine (and the USA) has already rejected it (time.com/...).
The weather report and Putin’s gambit also comes as we read of real shortages in artillery ammo reducing Russian counter-battery fire and additional shipments of heavy weaponry to Ukraine.
My bet is on the Ukrainians launching their counter-offensive on two fronts.
The main thrust, long-expected, from Zaporizhia south, through Tokmak, Melitopol and (I think) ultimately aiming at the Black Sea port of Berdyansk. That thrust will split the Russian forces in half. A drive then on Armyansk at the north end of the Crimean isthmus will leave those Russian forces in the southwest cut off and, effectively, destroyed.
A secondary thrust will finally aim at capturing Svatove and Kreminna. Depending on how quickly those two points can be captured (or bypassed), I expect to see the Ukrainian army press on to Starobilsk. Starobilsk is the last supply link to Luhansk/Donetsk remaining in eastern Ukraine and its capture should lead to a rapid reconquest of Luhansk. I’ve read reports that Russia’s Second Army Corps (formed out of Donetsk/Luhansk) is liable to surrender once Kreminna falls; if that happens, the Russian position in the East really begins to unravel.
The Ukrainians have hitherto not been able to launch two offensives at once. I think they’ve got the numbers, equipment and supplies in place finally to pull off such a feat. I also think that pressuring the Russians on two fronts will break them.
Ukraine’s winter counter-offensive will set the stage for the final phase of the war: Liberating Luhansk/Donetsk and Crimea and restoring Ukraine’s 2014 borders. I look for that to happen when the Spring mud has ended — sometime in May-July. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but if Russian shelling and bombing of Ukrainian cities is any indication, I look for such activity to continue from Russian territory, which will then compel Ukraine to take the war to Russia, at the very least, to create a demilitarized buffer 10-20km wide.
More interesting yet, is what payback is planned for Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus and the Russian separatists in Transnistria.