Russia launched a series of small-scale offensives in the 85th week of its war with Ukraine, appearing to try and freeze Kyiv’s four-month-old counteroffensive by fixing its forces in place.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive has succeeded in wresting back half the territory Russia captured earlier this year, breaching Russia’s vaunted “Surovikin line” of defence, weakening Russian logistics by striking deep into Crimea, and depriving Russia of control of the western Black Sea.
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Russia resumed an offensive effort towards the city of Kupiansk at the northeastern end of the front, on October 6, Ukraine’s eastern forces spokesman said. Russian sources confirmed the ground assault in the direction of Synkivka following an artillery barrage.
Ukrainian officials said in July that Russia had launched a push to capture Kupiansk, and military analysts have assessed that this is a Russian effort to distract Ukrainian forces from parts of the front where they are achieving success.
“If I was Russia today … I would do an immediate spoiling attack. I would go on the offensive somewhere,” Colonel Seth Krummrich, a vice president at Global Guardian, a security consultancy, told Al Jazeera in late June.
“I would punch, because right now you’re running out of options … [the Ukrainians] are going to find a breach and they’re going to punch through it,” he said.
That is what Russia did in Kupiansk the following month, but it didn’t stop Ukrainian forces from puncturing their first line of defence on the southern front, near Robotyne, in September.
Russian forces near Robotyne appeared to have rotated troops of the 291st and 71st Motorized Rifle Regiments after gruelling September battles in which they retreated before a growing Ukrainian salient through their minefields and trenches.
Russian forces near Robotyne and Verbove were busy re-mining front lines previously cleared by Ukrainian forces and slowing them down, said one Russian military blog calling itself Paratrooper’s Diary.
“Although enemy armoured vehicles are increasingly appearing in the Robotyne-Verbove section, the enemy has reduced the movement time due to mined areas,” the blogger said. “Our sappers manage to re-mine areas already cleared by the enemy.”
But the blog also corroborated Ukrainian reports that the counteroffensive was continuing. “The artillery does not stop for a minute,” the blogger said.
Russian forces were going on the offensive elsewhere, too.
As many as three Russian battalions attacked Ukrainian defences in October near Zherebyanky, west of Robotyne, claiming to have advanced 2km (1.2 miles).
They launched a battalion-level offensive near Huliaipole on the southern front, advancing “several hundred metres”, according to one Russian reporter.
And they stepped up efforts to capture Avdiivka, an eastern city they have surrounded to the north and south with a pincer movement.
These tactical operations were aimed at freezing what has been a slow but steady Ukrainian advance ahead of Russian presidential elections, said Igor Girkin, a Russian military officer who organised the Russian militia that has fought the Ukrainian army since Donetsk and Luhansk declared they were seceding in 2014.
“With a 99 percent probability, the Kremlin decided to freeze the war until the elections, that is, until March 2024,” wrote Girkin, who goes by the nom de guerre Strelkov, in a letter posted by his wife on social media.
In his analysis, Russian President Vladimir Putin will do nothing to “seriously aggravate the social, economic and internal political situation in the country”, until spring, the sole priority being “to prevent deep breakthroughs or sensitive operational successes of the enemy”, until then.
The Kremlin may expect a lull in winter fighting due to seasonal rainfall that will muddy the ground and make manoeuvres by tanks and armoured fighting vehicles difficult.
But Ukraine has said it could maintain the momentum of its summer counteroffensive through the winter.
“If the cold weather hits immediately … the ground will remain frozen and heavy machinery will be able to move on it,” said Ilya Yevlash, Ukraine’s eastern forces spokesman.
Despite Russian spoiling attacks, Ukrainian forces pressed on with their counteroffensive. In their southern salient, they marginally advanced south of Robotyne on October 6 and broadened their salient westwards towards the village of Kopani on October 7. They also attempted to expand that salient east, towards Novofedorivka, on October 10.
In the east, they continued to advance past the recently recaptured settlements of Klishchiivka and Andriivka south of Bakhmut, in an ongoing effort to surround the captured city and retake it.
And on the Donetsk-Zaporizhia border, where the eastern and southern fronts meet, geolocated footage showed that they advanced near the village of Mykilske on October 10.
Despite Slovakia’s September 30 election of a pro-Russia government, which has announced a halt to weapons deliveries to Ukraine, Slovakia joined fellow NATO members to accelerate training and munitions promised to Ukraine on October 9.
NATO ministers voted to “further increase their military, intelligence, financial, training and humanitarian support to Ukraine”, including “long-range missiles and multi-purpose fighter aircraft, and to sustain this support for as long as it takes for Ukraine to prevail”.
Source: Al Jazeera