West ‘perplexed’ by Ukraine’s strategy – NYT
Ukraine’s counteroffensive is struggling because some of Kiev’s best troops are “in the wrong places,” the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing senior US and UK officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kiev's main objective is to reach the Sea of Azov, cutting Crimea off from the Russian mainland. Yet, Ukraine currently has more troops on the eastern front – facing Artyomovsk, also known as Bakhmut – than in the “far more strategically significant” south, according to the Times.
“American planners have advised Ukraine to concentrate on the front driving toward Melitopol… and on punching through Russian minefields and other defenses, even if the Ukrainians lose more soldiers and equipment in the process,” the newspaper claimed.
The Russian Defense Ministry has estimated Ukraine had lost 45,000 dead and over 5,000 vehicles in the past two months of fighting, without penetrating Russian defenses.
“Only with a change of tactics and a dramatic move can the tempo of the counteroffensive change,” a US official told the newspaper, while other sources cited in the article argued that even that may be too little, too late.
Kiev’s insistence on keeping a large force in the east is particularly “perplexing” to American and British officials, as Western doctrine calls for commitment to a clear main effort. They argue that a smaller force could serve to pin down the Russian defenders, and while Ukraine theoretically has enough troops to retake Artyomovsk, doing so would “lead to large numbers of losses for little strategic gain.”
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, his British counterpart Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe Christopher Cavoli all urged Ukraine’s top general Valery Zaluzhny to focus on the southern front in an August 10 call, the Times said. Zaluzhny supposedly agreed.
Just five days later, however, President Vladimir Zelensky was touring the “Soledar sector” near Artyomovsk, visiting the neo-Nazi ‘Azov’ unit and speaking about the importance of the eastern front.
According to the Times, Ukraine has started to redeploy some units to the south, but “even the most experienced units have been reconstituted a number of times after taking heavy casualties.”
Kiev is currently “tapping into its last strategic reserves,” and unnamed Western analysts worry that Ukrainian forces “may run out of steam” by mid-September, even before a change in weather turns the ground into impassable mud.
The Times itself noted that US criticism comes from the perspective of officers “who have never experienced a war of this scale and intensity,” and that the US war doctrine “has never been tested in an environment like Ukraine’s, where Russian electronic warfare jams communications and GPS,” and there is no air superiority.
Ukraine launched its much-hyped offensive in early June, but has so far failed to gain any significant ground, losing many Western-supplied tanks and armored vehicles in the process.