A Ukrainian counteroffensive has advanced for 70 kilometers towards the Russian border and liberated more than 3 thousand kilometers in the Kharkiv region since last September 6th. It was the first victory for Kyiv forces admitted by Moscow since the invasion began in February.
The action showed that Ukraine has the capacity to carry out major offensive actions. But according to analysts surveyed by War Games, victory on the battlefield does not necessarily mean victory in war. That’s because the Ukrainians are under strong economic pressure and need monthly financial aid of at least US$ 5 billion to keep the basic structures of the state functioning.
“Ukraine may even be winning the war in tactical-operational field, but in the economic field, if the economic aid does not arrive, the Ukrainian State will collapse”, said professor doctor of war theory and military history Sandro Teixeira Moita, from the Meira Mattos Institute – the civilian arm of the School of Army Command and General Staff.
How was the Ukrainian counterattack in Kharkiv?
In 700 in July, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but he said it would take place in Kherson, an oblast (state or province) in the south of the country that had been conquered by the Russians in the first days of the invasion.
The Ukrainians gathered troops in the nearby town of Mykolaiv and launched several offensives, capturing more than 30 villages and breaking through Russian defense lines. However, the vanguard of the Ukrainian army has so far reached 15 kilometers from the capital of Kherson, without directly threatening it.
This scenario gave the impression that Ukrainian forces were not advancing. Moscow had sent several battalions of its best troops to stop the counterattack – gathering between 24 a thousand and 90 thousand fighters.
But on September 9, Kyiv launched a dizzying attack on an unexpected part of the front: the outskirts of Kharkiv, in the north-east of the country. Columns of mechanized cavalry and motorized infantry advanced in pincers. According to Moita, the attack was made possible by the use of German-made Gepard anti-aircraft artillery tanks.
“They formed a low-height air defense curtain for brigades to advance through the terrain,” he said.
The Ukrainians faced troops from the Russian National Guard and the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk – that is, they were not the most trained and equipped units that Russia sent to Ukraine.
According to Moita, the region of Izyum, the main city conquered, would be being used by the Russians as a maintenance center for armored vehicles that returned damaged from the front line. Therefore, many of them would not have entered into combat and were simply abandoned by the Russian troops in a stampede.
The Ukrainians advanced to the Oskil River, on the edge of the Kharkiv oblast. They did not progress further because Russia sent troops from its 90 th Armored Division to stop the Ukrainians from trying to cross the river.
It is very difficult to obtain information about the Ukrainian strategy, but one of the strongest hypotheses is that the success of the daring Ukrainian maneuver would be the result of a diversionary maneuver.
“Apparently, they decided to make their main attack in the Kharkiv region, this after more than a month of announcing that they would make the counteroffensive in Kherson. This was a diversionary maneuver, leaving the Russians in doubt, forced them to concentrate the means to defend in Kherson”, said reserve colonel and military analyst Paulo Roberto da Silva Gomes Filho.
“When When they reached the limit of their advance, the Russians moved into a defensive position on a very wide front. Certainly this front had many vulnerable points. And the Ukrainians decided to attack with a superiority of means, with a ratio of eight to one and that causes a very big imbalance. They found a weak point in the defenses and entered with a lot of impetus”, said Paulo Filho.
But another line of thought points out that, because they have many more fighters than the Russians, the Ukrainians can attack simultaneously in several fronts. In fact, the counteroffensive in Kherson continues.
According to Moita, the Ukrainians started a mobilization campaign shortly after the Russian invasion and today they have about 700 a thousand men and women in arms. Russia started the campaign with between 130 1,000 and 90 1,000 troops and has not received significant reinforcements so far.
According to Paulo Filho, it is possible to analyze the Ukrainian military actions also from the perspective of the so-called operational strategic maneuver. That is, when one side tries to put its forces and weapons at an advantage over the enemy.
The Ukrainians are using the maneuver on interior lines. Ukrainian troops occupy a central position in relation to Russia’s three main converging lines of attack (northeast offensive in Kharkiv, eastern offensive in Donbas and southern offensive from Crimea). From this situation, they could attack the Russian front in any direction and chose the northeast direction.
According to Moita, the Ukrainians used NATO intelligence information to decide where to attack. “I have no doubt that NATO, through reconnaissance, through satellite imaging, passed the data to the Ukrainians,” he said.
War against inflation
Ukrainian inflation in 2022 is expected to be around 30%, and the country’s GDP is expected to fall by a third, according to economists’ projections. The Russian economy, in turn, fell by 4% in the last quarter (and could reach the level it had in 2018 by the end of the year). However, the country is far from breaking, even with more than 9,000 sanctions applied by the West.
In this context, the Ukrainian victory in the suburbs of Kharkiv was even more important. According to risk analyst Nelson Ricardo Fernandes Silva, of consultancy ARP, the Ukrainian government needed to present any kind of victory on the battlefield to maintain the support of the West. “They didn’t have many options, that’s what they got.”
That is, Washington and its European allies need to be convinced by Kyiv that it is worth continuing to support Ukraine. And one way to convince them is to show that the Ukrainian army can be victorious, at least on some part of the front line.
According to Moita, if Ukraine doesn’t get the monthly Western financial aid that allows the basic functioning of the state, the country may have to start printing money and go into hyperinflation.
Thus, perhaps the outcome of the war at this time is related both to the battlefield in the Ukrainian plains and to the economic fight. And Russia is preparing to pounce on that front, increasingly cutting energy supplies to Europe during the coming winter and betting on wearing down its rivals with inflation and social pressure related to rising electricity and gas bills.