As Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia counteroffensive a slowly, via small-unit trench-by-trench tactics, Russia has notched significant gains in Ukraine’s northeast, quickly gobbling up territory on the approach to Kupyansk. Meanwhile, Ukraine is pushing forward in the delta islands south of Kherson.
The war has become a game of chess. There are finite reinforcements, and both sides need to determine where to deploy what they have left. Whoever chooses right will have the upper hand in this next stage of the war.
Kupiansk is the critical logistical hub that once keystoned Russia’s entire occupation of northeastern Ukraine, and in particular, Kharkiv oblast. Ukraine’s liberation of the town in mid-September of last year led to the collapse of the entire Russian presence in that region, from the town of Izyum (and just below it, tiny Dovhen’ke), all the way up to the Russian border.
In the face of that Ukrainian advance, Russia’s defenses finally held outside of Kreminna, on the southern edge of this front, and Svatove further up north. You might remember Svatove as a possible point of attack for Ukraine’s current counteroffensive. It was the lower-risk, lower-gain option. Though given Russia’s current advances, picking this point might’ve had more utility than we assumed.
The reason to attack here would be to reach Starobilsk and liberate that entire swath of red in northeastern Ukraine, all of it agricultural steppe. It would’ve cut off Russia’s supply lines from Belgorod, forcing Russia to run its war supplies through eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Still, I assumed that the supply line had already been mostly phased out, hence the lack of interest from Ukrainian general staff. Instead, that supply line is now feeding the current Russian advances toward Kupyansk.
Ukraine has ordered a full evacuation of all the villages between the current Russian advance heading toward Kupyansk from the north. Meanwhile, Novoselivske has fallen back into Russian hands. You probably don’t remember that town. It is tiny but strategic, and we were so excited when Ukraine liberated it back in January. That’s no more. Also, Ukrainian forces have lost ground in the forests around Kreminna.
Ukraine has clearly moved its most experienced and best equipped units down to the Zaporizhzhia front, leaving this corner of the map manned by less capable Territorial Defense Forces. Its general staff will have to make some hard choices on how much to reinforce the map and push back against Russian gains that will be, necessarily, tenuous.
Not that Russia is devoid of hard questions as well.
Southeast of Kherson, on the other side of the Dnipro, Ukrainian forces staged a surprise attack on the town of Kozachi Laheri. While some sources described this as a “raid,” others claimed the fighting had been ongoing for 1-2 days. While Russian propagandists are making sure people know that Russia still retains control of the settlement, there is plenty of geolocated evidence of heavy fighting.
Ukraine still has significant logistical difficulties in moving forces, equipment, and supplies across the Dnipro, but it is becoming more aggressive in pushing south into that contested delta marshland. A Ukrainian established presence in this area would be a direct threat to Russia’s Crimean supply lines and Melitopol’s western flank.
So now Russia has to decide—is this a serious enough threat to its flanks that it needs to send its own reinforcements to handle the situation? It’s certainly not as big a situation as the fighting around Kupyansk, but without a proper Russian response, it can certainly blossom into one.
Meanwhile, at the main front, Ukrainian forces have, at reportedly high cost, established their first foothold in Robotyne. That area is a hornet’s nest of Russian defenses:
It’s been slow, grueling work, but Ukraine has advanced on both the town’s flanks, mostly marked here as contested gray area.
Not only would Robotyne’s liberation break the first of three Russian defensive lines on the path to strategic Tokmak, a key logistical hub for the area much as Kupyansk was, but it would put Tokmak in range of Ukrainian tube artillery, further messing with Russia’s logistics along this critical part of the front. Currently, Ukraine needs to use scarce and precious GMLRS rocket artillery to hit those targets.
On another part of this front, Ukraine now has a foothold in Urozhaine. This is the approach toward Mariupol with a single major defensive line. All those Ukrainian armored units, they’re waiting for the opening through these minefield-infested defenses before romping in the backfield. At least that’s the obvious hope.
This is infuriating:
Yes, the West has dithered on approving F-16s for the Ukrainian air force, but it’s been over a year. No one in Ukraine thought it would be important to offer English-language training for key pilots?
English is the language of NATO. You want to use NATO-standard equipment, trained by NATO personnel, you learn English. This should’ve been ongoing from the moment Ukrainian general staff thought “we have to get our hands on Western gear.” They’ve used interpreters to teach Ukrainians how to operate other equipment, but these are fighter jets. You can’t have interpreters translating training commands while flying these single-seat jets.
Mighty Russia, propped up by Iran and North Korea. How humiliating.
I can’t even.