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Ukraine dictating tempo, Russia mostly reacting: UK reports shift in war dynamics

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Russia seems to have lost its footing in the Ukraine conflict, merely reacting rather than driving its war objectives; a UK intelligence update revealed a shift in warfare momentum since the beginning of May.

“Since the start of May 2023, Russia has increasingly ceded the initiative in the conflict and is reacting to Ukrainian action rather than actively progressing towards its own war aims,” the British ministry of defense said in its war intelligence update. Initiative in war refers to the ability of a military force to dictate the terms and pace of the conflict, often by taking proactive, offensive actions.


The side that holds the initiative can force its adversary into a defensive posture, potentially exploiting their need to respond to maneuvers rather than implementing their own strategies. Ultimately, initiative is about controlling the battlefield tempo and space, forcing the enemy to operate on your terms.

The British intelligence report highlighted how Russia has been bombarding Ukraine with drone and missile barrages throughout the month, as it had “launched 20 nights of one-way-attack uncrewed aerial vehicle and cruise missile attacks” deep inside Ukrainian territory. Yet, “Russia has had little success in its likely aims of neutralizing Ukraine’s improved air defenses and destroying Ukrainian counter-attack forces.”

The report said Russian top brass was preparing for Ukraine’s long-anticipated counter-offensive to reclaim occupied territories equipped with the latest shipments of Western weapon systems. “Operationally, Russian commanders are likely attempting to generate reserve forces and position them where they believe a Ukrainian counter-attack will occur,” the UK MoD said.

However, those efforts have probably been undermined because instead of focusing on amassing strategic reserves, uncommitted forces are being dispatched to plug holes in the front line around the key strategic city of Bakhmut.

Earlier this month, Russia took control of Bakhmut, the war’s longest and bloodiest battlefront where thousands of soldiers from both camps died over the course of nearly a year. Russian mercenary group Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin announced his forces had successfully captured the city, were establishing defensive positions and would hand over control to Russian armed forces by the end of the month.

Securing Bakhmut diverts Russian resources to immediate exigencies, undermining the larger tactical objective of preparing for a concentrated Ukrainian counter-offensive.

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