Status: 21/09/2023, 16:48 p.m.
By: Robert Wagner
The approaching winter is currently Ukraine's biggest opponent. Kiev has four weeks left to "put the knife to the throat of Crimea."
Kyiv - Time is running out for a resounding success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. It is true that Kyiv has reached important milestones in the Ukraine war in recent weeks and days. This refers to the recaptures of the strategically important villages of Robotyne in the southern Zaporizhzhia region and Klishchiivka and Andriyevka near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which were the epicenters of the counteroffensive.
However, Ukrainian forces still need to make up a lot of ground to ensure the success of the counteroffensive beyond the winter. And time is running out for that. On September 10, US Chief of Staff Mark Milley told the BBC that the remaining window of "fighting weather" in the Ukraine war for this year is 30 to 45 days. And the battles have not yet been fought. "They haven't finished the battle part of what we want to achieve," Milley explained.
Ukrainian soldiers of the 3rd Assault Brigade on the front line near Andriyevka in the Donetsk region. © Mstyslav Chernov/dpa
Ukraine has only four weeks left in the south for sustainable success
The British historian and expert on Russian security policy Mark Galeotti has now expressed himself more drastically to the Independent. Ukraine has only four weeks left to "hold the knife to the throat" of Russian-occupied Crimea and force Vladimir Putin to negotiate. In order to be able to use the metaphorical knife correctly, however, Kyiv's troops would have to advance another 16 kilometers south from Robotyne. Only then will the important Russian supply routes to Crimea come within the reach of Ukrainian artillery.
This is the only "serious" way to corner Russia and bring Putin to the negotiating table, said the historian, who has written more than 20 books on the subject of Russia and teaches at University College London. "But if things are delayed, the Russians will use the winter to regroup and the whole thing will start all over again next spring," warned the Russia expert, who also works at the Institute of International Relations in Prague.
Southern Front crucial in Ukraine war - next stage Tokmak
Cutting off Russian-occupied Crimea from supplies from Russia is a key strategic goal of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Zaporizhzhia Oblast in southern Ukraine, which borders Crimea to the northeast, therefore plays a decisive role. A breakthrough here would enable Kiev to permanently destroy the supply routes between the western Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and Crimea.
"He wants to end it quickly": Putin friend Erdogan surprises with statement on Ukraine war
Dummy of the Leopard tank: Ukraine develops remote-controlled dummy against Putin's troops
"We smashed two brigades": This is how Ukrainian soldier describes front-line breakthrough
Next Bayern poll: Aiwanger in a head-to-head duel – Söder can breathe a sigh of relief
Successor to the Leopard 2: Germany's new battle tank is stuck
Fancy a voyage of discovery?
The next major strategic target of the counteroffensive in the south is therefore the city of Tokmak, which, however, is 25 kilometers away from the current front line near Robotyne. Another 50 kilometers further south is the occupied city of Melitopol, whose reconquest was originally one of the main goals of this year's counteroffensive. And from there it is another 40 kilometers to the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian armed forces would have to reach this in order to cut off the supply routes to Crimea, as the New York Times explained in an elaborate analysis.
Offensive against Russia: The autumn weather is the real opponent of Ukraine
These distances, which are many times higher than what has been achieved so far, and the approaching winter are causing a lot of pessimism among Western observers. Marina Miron, a military expert from Kings College London, for example, thinks it is "very unlikely" that Ukraine will achieve an even bigger breakthrough this year. "The rain is already setting in," she told The Independent. "And the weather is going to get a lot worse." It is up in the air whether Ukraine can still make a "real, decisive difference" in the course of the war this year.
The muddy terrain as a result of the rain will make it difficult or impossible for Ukraine to advance further, as the Leopard 2 and Challenger 2 tanks used by Kiev are not suitable for use on wet, muddy terrain. "The main effort will be to supply the troops throughout the winter. Ukraine will not be able to continue the offensive," Miron said.
Ukraine faces problems: Russia is playing for time, support from the West could crumble
Russia, of course, knows about the importance of the southern front and the tight window of opportunity. From the very beginning, Moscow had prepared intensively for the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which only started in June. The time the Russians had for this paid off. They built a defensive front the likes of which have not been seen in Europe since World War II, as the New York Times writes. Ukraine has therefore only been able to advance a few kilometers so far and the next milestones towards Crimea will probably not be easier to reach.
Russia is said to have already strengthened its forces on the southern front. Fears that support from the West could dwindle as the war drags on do not inspire more optimism. Poland's recent announcement that it will no longer supply weapons to Ukraine is causing horror in Kiev. Time remains the key factor. "Neither side has an unlimited supply of money or soldiers. But the Russians have time. And that's what they're speculating on," Miron said.