Espreso. Global

US and Ukraine seek new strategy amidst “failed counteroffensive”

12 December, 2023 Tuesday

American and Ukrainian military leaders are working on a fresh strategy to boost Kyiv's fortunes and regain support in the face of a failed counteroffensive against Russia

The New York Times reported the information.

According to the outlet, President Zelenskyy's urgent meetings in Washington aim to demonstrate solidarity and secure backing both on the battlefield and in Congress. The setbacks, coupled with waning Republican support, prompt concerns of a prolonged stalemate favoring Putin. President Biden emphasizes the importance of sustained assistance, highlighting the evolving dynamics as Russia rebuilds its military strength.

“We can’t let Putin win. It’s in our overwhelming national interest and international interest of all our friends. Any disruption in our ability to supply Ukraine clearly strengthens Putin’s position,” the US President said last week as he pressed Congress for a new round of funding for Ukraine.

Following its unsuccessful drive to Kyiv in 2022, the Russian military is rebuilding its forces, now equipped with more troops, ammunition, missiles, and a fleet of Iranian-supplied battlefield drones, according to US officials.

In response, the United States is intensifying face-to-face military advice to Ukraine, deploying a three-star general to Kyiv for an extended period. War games in Germany next month aim to formulate a new strategy, with the US advocating for a conservative approach focused on holding and building up Ukraine's existing territory and resources. Ukrainians, however, seek an offensive strategy to capture global attention.

The outcome holds significant stakes, with warnings that, without a new strategy and additional funding, Ukraine could lose the war. Some US military voices support a "hold and build" strategy, emphasizing self-sufficiency for Ukraine and deterring further Russian aggression. However, challenges include opposition to additional spending from some Republicans and unrealistic expectations from Ukrainian leaders regarding Western support.

The US aims for a credible threat, hoping Russia may engage in meaningful negotiations by the end of next year or in 2025.

Ukraine explores bold strategies amidst potential 2024 stalemate

Ukrainian officials are innovating strategies, inspired by successful deep strikes on Crimea, aiming to disrupt Russia with attacks on arms facilities, weapons depots, and munitions transport. Described as "very daring," these plans seek symbolic victories while keeping Russia off balance. Without a shift in strategy, American officials warn of a 2024 comparable to the deadliest year of World War I.

The war's toll is evident, with Ukrainian hospitals crowded, and official casualty numbers undisclosed but acknowledged as steep. The 2023 counteroffensive, modeled after the US military, faced criticism akin to past conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

While open to compromise, US officials recognize Ukraine's successes, especially the impactful strikes in Crimea. Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli is playing a larger role in coordination, and Lt. Gen. Antonio A. Aguto Jr. is dispatched to Kyiv, signaling increased US military involvement in advising Ukraine, albeit without permanent advisers on-site.

Robotyne: The harsh reality of Ukraine’s counteroffensive

The Battle of Robotyne symbolizes the shattered aspirations of Ukraine's counteroffensive. Despite US-trained mechanized forces' efforts to push toward the Black Sea, the small village became a bloody stalemate rather than the breakthrough anticipated.

Ukrainian officials initially claimed victory in capturing the hamlet, presenting it as a significant step in disrupting Russian supply routes. However, the reality unfolded differently. The 47th Brigade, part of the nine trained by the US, suffered massive losses, and the town of Robotyne lay in ruins.

The ambitious push, guided by American-trained Ukrainian forces, faced unexpectedly resilient Russian defenses. Despite millions spent on sending tanks and armored vehicles and training Ukrainian units, Russian forces maintained control over nearly 20 percent of the country.

The Battle of Robotyne underscores the gap between US teaching of advanced military tactics and the Russian preparation for a protracted conflict. With winter approaching, Ukrainian forces remain stalemated on Robotyne's outskirts, facing formidable Russian defenses and uncertain prospects for breaking through in the near future.

Challenges and setbacks in Ukraine's counteroffensive: The changing dynamics

Deep Russian defenses, featuring formidable minefields and a variety of drones, have transformed mechanized maneuver warfare in Ukraine. The use of Chinese-made commercial drones, in particular, has altered the nature of battlefield observation, making it challenging for either side to capitalize on breakthroughs without detection.

Russian drones disrupted communications, located mine-sweeping teams, and facilitated targeted strikes. Sharp disagreements between Ukrainian and US generals on strategic priorities further complicated matters. While Ukraine deemed the eastern part of the country crucial, Washington prioritized the occupied southern coastline.

“There are a lot of reasons why the counteroffensive failed, but the Ukrainian critique has some truth to it. There was kind of a collective expectation inflation,” said Eric Ciaramella, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

The disagreement led to divided forces and a grinding stalemate, with Ukraine unwilling to commit to a single avenue of attack. The absence of air power to protect ground units added to the challenges. Despite successful attacks on Russia's Black Sea fleet and military command posts in Crimea, the overall campaign faced criticism and was not deemed a complete success.

The 2023 campaign showcased a major naval victory by Ukraine, utilizing longer-range British Storm Shadow missiles. While these attacks damaged targets in Crimea and prompted Russia to withdraw parts of its Black Sea Fleet, they did not alter the broader course of the war or result in territorial gains for Ukraine.

Strategic talks held in Germany as US and Ukraine seek a shift in war dynamics

Senior American military leaders, including Generals Cavoli and Aguto, convened with top Ukrainian officials at US Army Europe headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, to discuss the outlines of the strategy for the upcoming year. While details remain undisclosed, both sides recognize the critical need to alter the current stalemate, understanding that prolonged deadlock may jeopardize securing additional American funding.

The importance of US assistance in shaping the nature of the conflict is emphasized by analysts. Andrea Kendall-Taylor at the Center for a New American Security stresses that without continuous assistance, the war could take on a radically different character. 

“I don’t think it’s overstating it to highlight how important the U.S. assistance is,” she said. “If the assistance doesn’t continue, then this war takes on a radically different nature moving forward.”

American officials stress that Ukraine doesn't need to reclaim all lost territory; strategic and symbolic victories, coupled with enhanced defense capabilities and domestic weaponry production, may strengthen Ukraine's position for future peace talks.

Preparations for the next year involve managing expectations, with US officials cautioning Ukraine that the approved aid from Congress may not match initial funding levels. The emphasis is on fighting smartly and efficiently, making the right investments.

“If Ukraine and the West make the right investments in pursuit of a long-term strategy, then Ukraine may retake the advantage,” said Michael Kofman, a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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