Ukraine's Zaluzhnyi proposed bold counteroffensive plan in 2022, but US feared failure
In 2022, Ukraine's Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, proposed a bold plan for a counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia region that could have changed the course of the war, but the US opposed it
Business Insider reported this on January 9, citing a new book by The Wall Street Journal correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov, ‘Our Enemies Will Vanish.’
According to the book, Zaluzhnyi's “bold, and in some observations risky,” plan envisioned a breakthrough in the Zaporizhzhia direction in 2022 and was supposed to cut the so-called land corridor to isolate Russian troops in occupied Crimea.
When discussing plans for the 2022 counteroffensive with Western partners, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi supported the advance to the Sea of Azov through Zaporizhzhia region. At that time, the Russian troops hadn't yet built large minefields and fortifications there, which made a possible breakthrough easier, Trofimov writes.
The book says that such a move would have been a difficult task because the breakthrough had to be both deep and wide enough to prevent the Russians from counterattacking and attacking the flanks of the offensive forces. But if the plan had worked, Ukraine could have “deprived Moscow of its biggest prize in the war," the journalist said.
Ukraine didn't ask for much
To implement the plan, Zaluzhnyi estimates that only 90 additional howitzers and enough artillery ammunition were needed. According to the article, it is difficult to assess whether these weapons would have been enough, but there is a possibility that with sufficient combat forces, Ukraine could have achieved a success similar to the results of the Kharkiv counteroffensive in September 2022.
The planning was conducted at a time when Ukraine “hadn’t yet demonstrated any offensive prowess,” and the United States was wary of the idea, fearing that an offensive would open up vulnerable areas along the front line.
“From the US perspective, Trofimov writes, "failure was likely, and its consequences potentially catastrophic." Such a risky move could result in a strategic loss that could see Russia take the remainder of Zaporizhzhia and, later, Dnipro. Rather than support the objective Ukraine wanted, the US pushed Ukraine to focus on a different target for its southern counteroffensive: Kherson. It was a safer option, and the stakes were lower. The city was an important early Russian war win and one Ukraine would decide to pursue instead of Zaporizhzhia.”
According to the journalist's interlocutors among Zaluzhnyi's aides, he insisted that Ukraine should attack where it needed to, not where it could, but since the United States controlled most of the military aid to Ukraine, there were few options left, and Kherson was chosen as the target.
The journalist claims that in 2022, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine wanted to launch a counteroffensive with high risks and high rewards in case of success, but this never happened. Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia direction a year later than Zaluzhnyi planned, and this time Russia was more prepared, Trofimov writes. Large Russian fortifications were one of the reasons why Ukraine's counteroffensive in 2023 did not achieve its goals.
In the book, Trofimov also notes that the inability of Ukraine's Western partners to take a bold step and provide the Defense Forces with powerful weapons without worrying about the potential cost has been seriously criticized.
Hesitancy of Ukraine's Western partners to provide powerful weapons
As the war in Ukraine is set to enter its third year, experts continue to criticize the West's approach to it.
"I agree with the overarching critiques that throughout this war Washington has been too conservative when it comes to enabling the Ukrainians to be successful on the battlefield," George Barros, a conflict expert at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider.
"That inopportune timing in Washington has foreclosed some windows of opportunity that Ukrainian forces could have exploited had Western aid been there on time to poise Ukrainian forces to exploit them," he added.
Barros underscored many examples of this, such as the US M1 Abrams tanks only arriving in Ukraine in autumn 2023, long-range ATACMS missiles in late 2023, and F-16 fighter jets not coming yet, "when they were needed in 2022."