The West needs to fully support Ukraine’s battle strategies against Russia in the current counter-offensive and the ones to come next, because to do otherwise would hand Russia the gift of valuable time to regroup its forces, said an analyst at the Washington-based think tank Institute of Study of War (ISW).
“Ukrainian forces have adapted. Ukraine’s military decision-making is sound. Now is not the time for Western doubt but for the West to embrace Ukraine’s way of war and commit to sustaining Ukraine’s initiative on the battlefield,” wrote Nataliya Bugayova, non-resident Russia Fellow at ISW.
She highlighted that Ukraine recognized the realities of Russian defenses much faster than Western policymakers, who were expecting a rapid Ukrainian breakthrough.
Bugayova stressed that the US should wholeheartedly embrace its collaboration with a capable ally who takes the lead – Ukraine. In many instances, the US has been accustomed to working with partners who depend on it for leadership, whether it's the proxy forces it has trained or allies relying on its security assistance. Yet, in the case of Ukraine, the US finds itself in a partnership where Ukraine is leading on the frontlines. They possess an in-depth understanding of their operational environment, their adversaries, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. Ukrainians have consistently demonstrated their grasp of the complexities of this conflict and their ability to adapt. Perhaps most crucially, Ukraine's unwavering determination to continue the fight remains undiminished.
“Now is not the time for Western doubt. The West must reinforce its military and diplomatic commitments and lean in to help sustain Ukraine’s battlefield momentum. Ukraine is still facing an existential challenge from Russia, which requires Western aid to militarily defeat. Leaning in means embracing Ukraine’s campaign design. It means ensuring that the Western training of Ukrainian troops is done in conditions in which Ukraine fights at its best,” she wrote.
She added: “The West should also help shape strategic communications to set proper expectations around Ukraine’s progress. Ukraine can win this war militarily, but it will take more than one counteroffensive operation. It will take as many campaigns as it takes for Ukraine to liberate its territory and its people.”
“The West should be prepared to support them all because the fundamentals shaping this conflict have not changed: Ukraine can win this war, Russia can only be defeated on the battlefield, and what is at stake includes Ukraine’s existence and vital US interests.”
Bugayova wrote that the current objective of the Kremlin is obstruct and hinder Western and Ukrainian decision-making processes, as this stands as one of the few avenues through which Russian President Vladimir Putin can further his goals. Delays in Western decision-making, especially when it leads to sluggish deliveries of military aid, can offer Russia a respite from pressure. Granting Russia such respite, whether at the operational level or the strategic level, has proven to be disastrous.
She further elaborated that with additional time on their side, Russia has the opportunity to regroup and launch further attacks. However, Russia's Achilles' heel remains its incapacity to swiftly adapt when confronted with relentless pressure or a series of setbacks. Under sustained, unyielding pressure, the Russian forces are likely to begin to weaken. This is the desired outcome of Ukraine's present counteroffensive strategy, and it can only be realized if the West embraces Ukraine's approach to warfare for both the current phase and the future.
“Russia’s Achilles heel remains its inability to rapidly pivot when faced with relentless pressure or consecutive setbacks. Faced with constant pressure over time with no relief, the Russians will likely start to crack. This is the effect Ukraine’s current counteroffensive strategy is seeking to achieve, and it can only be realized if the West embraces Ukraine’s way of war for this phase of the counteroffensive and beyond,” she wrote.
Ukraine’s successes on the battlefronts
“Ukraine maintains the battlefield initiative and its forces are advancing in Zaporizhia Oblast and near Bakhmut. Ukraine continues to liberate its territory and people and is slowly but steadily breaking through an incredibly formidable Russian prepared defense — and the Russian forces are unable to stop the advance, which is now moving in two directions,” Bugayova wrote.
She added that Ukraine's military strategy has achieved notable victories against Russian forces. With backing from Western allies, Ukrainian troops have consistently thwarted Russian goals in various regions, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kharkiv Oblast, Kherson, and increasingly, in the southern part of the country. She stressed that Ukraine's efforts have prevented Russian forces from gaining complete control of the skies, while also challenging their naval dominance. This persistent resistance is gradually rendering the Russian military's presence in Crimea less sustainable, a development that was once considered improbable by many observers.
“Ukraine’s decision to keep pressure on Russian forces throughout the entire frontline instead of focusing all of Ukraine’s combat power on one line of attack in the direction of Melitopol, which some Western advisors preferred, was a good adaptation. Ukraine’s decision to hold and conduct counterattacks in Bakhmut allowed it to pin down a substantial portion of the combat power of Russia’s relatively elite airborne (VDV) forces and deny the creation of a strategic Russian reserve. The recent Ukrainian advances in Zaporizhia Oblast are likely forcing the Russians to laterally redeploy their units away from around Bakhmut, where Ukrainian forces are advancing too,” the Russia Fellow wrote.
Black Sea tactics
Bugayova highlighted Ukraine’s “asymmetrical tactics” in the Black Sea which she said are preventing the Black Sea Fleet from operating freely, “forcing Russia to reposition naval assets, and increasingly challenging Russian forces in Crimea — all operational developments of strategic significance.”
This is in light of Ukraine’s missile attack on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea navy in the Crimean port of occupied Sevastopol on Saturday. The Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Monday that the strike killed 34 Russian officers, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
The Ukrainian Navy said on Tuesday that the Russians will face challenges in controlling their troops deployed in the Black Sea area after the Ukrainian strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet killed their commander.