On the 29 August the Ukrainians launched a counter offensive in the south-west aimed at liberating the city of Kherson. Next morning the Institute for the Study of War ( ISW ) in Washington DC reported that the UKrainians appeared to have broken through the first line of the Russian positions. The Ukrainians said little but did reveal that they wanted to take advantage of all the rocket artillery strikes they had launched against the Russian lines of communication and logistics. Russia put out a tidal wave of propaganda, claiming that the Ukrainians had failed – which despite candid reactions from Russia’s milbloggers, German and Swiss ( German language news ) media swallowed whole. Russia meanwhile rushed two of their airborne divisions to reinforce Kherson and the west bank of the Dnipro River. The river is a kilometre wide in places. Russian sappers had built a pontoon bridge over the river and were operating pontoon and barge ferries. The latter have the advantage of changing their location, particularly at night, while presenting a moving target. However, sound roads are required to bring traffic to the ferry crossings and similarly good roads on the other bank for traffic to get ashore and to deliver people and distribute supplies. Having destroyed key bridges the Ukrainians knocked out the pontoon bridge ( replacing the Antonivsky Bridge at Kherson ) then began attacking the ferries.
At the same time the IAE team had arrived and started inspecting Europe’s largest nuclear power station. After they’d taken a first look they were not happy and suggested that perhaps the safest solution was a permanent IAE inspectorate at the Zaporizhzhia power station.
The Ukrainians put out clever obfuscation. Their counteroffensive would take time, for its main purpose was to grind down the Russian forces and batter their lines of supply, destroy their ammunition dumps and command system. Taking back ground was subordinate to these objectives. Progress would be slow though relentless.
Russian forces continued to send large convoys of military equipment from Crimea and Melitopol. The Mayor of Melitopol said the Russians had opened five bases and barracks around the city, strategically important because of its communications between Rostov and southern Ukraine. Around Kherson the Russians were trying to rotate troops in an effort to reinforce increasingly vulnerable positions. Far to the north, around Kharkiv, the Russians were reinforcing by replacing troops sent to Kherson with the newly formed 3rd Corps, mostly hurriedly trained reservists. The counter-offensive around Kherson began driving Russia’s tactical priorities. Putin extended the deadline for capturing Donetz in the east by another two weeks. Sergie Shoigu, Russia’s Defence Minister, claimed that the counter-offensive was forced on Ukraine through pressure from NATO for results and was detrimental to Ukraine’s existence.
Then on the 7 September the Ukrainians exploited the Russian shift of forces to the Kherson battle and struck north-west of Izyum. That’s about 100 kilometres south-east of Kharkiv and an important spot on the Russian lines of communication towards the north and the frontier of Russia. ( A long way north-east from Kherson. ) Most likely a clever deception campaign to hid the build up of forces by the Ukrainians. For they advanced no less than 10 kilometres and took back 400 square kilometres of ground. Now they threatened the Russian rear areas and supply lines in both Kupyansk and Izyum. ( If you would like to consult a map you can do no better than the ISW found at – https://www.understandingwar.org/
This allowed the Ukrainians to isolate the Russian forces around Izyum and retake a large amount of ground. Three days later the Ukrainians had advanced 70 kilometres and retaken 3000 square kilometres – more ground than the Russians had grabbed in all their operations since April. Taking Izyum would eliminate the Russian advance along the E 40 highway – which the invaders intended to use to outflank the Ukrainians – and opened the possibility of encircling its Russian occupiers.
Within a day it became clear that the Russian withdrawal from Izyum was disorderly. Brewed tanks and other vehicles were surrounded by abandoned equipment and discarded ammunition. Disorder had become rout. Yet again the Russian army displayed its inability to command effectively at company, platoon and squad levels. The recapture of Izyum most likely has ended Russian ambitions to advance west and take Donetsk. Even if they do attempt an advance, which is doubtful, it’s unlikely to gain a decisive result and will simply squander another chunk of Russia’s remaining combat power.
Ukrainian success resulted from sound planning and execution, maximising the impact of their NATO supplied weapons such as HIMARS rocket artillery to hit the Russian ground lines of communication in both Kharkiv and Kherson Oblasts. These long range strikes set the conditions for battle. The numbers of HIMARS supplied, though much needed, were still not enough to guarantee success. Sound planning and execution of a combined arms operation led to a remarkable victory.
The counter-offensive towards Kherson is not a feint: Ukraine has committed far too much fighting power for that, but with strong nerves and daring took advantage of a situation the Russians themselves foolishly opened up by delaying crucial decisions – waiting far too long to decide whether and how to reinforce their front line at Luhansk as they pondered whether to compromise their defence of Kherson or end their offensive campaign to capture Donetz. So far their response to disaster south of Kharkiv is to attack the city’s electricity and gas supplies for civilians.
The team at the ISW say that satellite photos show there’s precious little Russian armour left between the last large settlement in open country before the north-western suburbs of Kherson. There are also reports of Russian troops wishing to negotiate a surrender. The Russian propaganda machine is busy blaming the generals. Ukrainian pressure on Kherson combined with their swift counter-offensive around Kharkiv has given Russia’s generals a headache, shrinking their time and space for decisions and movements. Ukraine is now in a position to gain from any choice Putin makes.
The war will go on and probably right through the winter. Kherson is important, not only for protecting Odessa and the mouth of the Dnipro, but also because it’s the launch pad for regaining the whole Black Sea coast and Ukraine’s coast along the Sea of Azov. NATO – which in this case means the Americans and Britain – must make sure that Ukraine grows stronger. That will involve stepping up our production and rebuilding our defence industry. The US Naval Institute believes that NATO and the US Navy in particular must develop a proper strategy for the Black Sea where three NATO members are coastal states.