Ukraine Situation Report: Main Thrust Of Counteroffensive Has Begun, Report States
Pentagon officials told the New York Times that the full weight of the Ukrainian counteroffensive is now underway.
Roughly two months on from the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south and east of the country, it appears that the long-awaited main thrust of that operation may now be happening. That, at least, is the conclusion of two unnamed Pentagon officials, speaking to The New York Times today.
Those officials said that the main thrust was focusing in an area in the southeast of Ukraine and involved “thousands of reinforcements.” Notably, it seems that a significant quantity of these reinforcements were trained in Western countries and therefore represent more capable troops, held back for just this eventuality.
While details of new developments in the counteroffensive remain understandably murky, at least for now, it is noteworthy that the comments from the Pentagon officials also broadly tally with recent accounts from Russian officials.
Already, the Russian Ministry of Defense has spoken of a “massive” assault and fierce battles south of Orikhiv, a Ukrainian-held town roughly 60 miles north of the Sea of Azov. According to Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in southern Ukraine, the assault in question involved Western-trained Ukrainian troops who were equipped with around 100 armored vehicles, including German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks and U.S.-made M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. It had also long been expected that the full weight of the counteroffensive would involve larger quantities of advanced Western-supplied armor, with the hope that the qualitative advantage would give Ukraine the edge it needs to unseat Russian forces.
All that being said, caution is needed when it comes to definitively understand exactly what is or isn't going on across the battlefield. Deliberate feints designed to sow confusion or misdirect Russian resources, as well as just enhancing forces in key areas where tactical opportunities present themselves could also be at play.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
A man has been sentenced to 22 years in jail for blowing up a portion of railway in Russia’s western Bryansk region last summer. The Russian-Ukrainian citizen, Sergei Belavin, received his sentence in a Moscow military court, Reuters reports, citing a story from Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.
Belavin is said to have confessed to the crimes, which the court said were conducted at the behest of Ukrainian military intelligence, and he was convicted of terrorism and other charges.
According to state prosecutors, Belavin entered Russia last summer and, on July 9, 2022, placed an explosive device on a stretch of railway near Russia’s border with Ukraine and Belarus. The blast damaged a passing freight train and the track and disrupted services there for 10 hours. Nobody was injured.
There has been a string of attacks on infrastructure within Russia and in Russian-controlled territory since the start of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as well as assassinations. Kyiv has refused to comment on most of these attacks and has formally denied being behind them, at least in most cases.
In another Russian region bordering Ukraine, Belgorod oblast, local authorities have reported recent Ukrainian shelling. While the claims have not been independently verified, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the region, said that several settlements on the Russian side of the border had been hit, but that there were no casualties. The settlement of Murom was said to have briefly lost power as a result of the shelling.
Ukraine has announced plans to spend over $1 billion on domestic drone manufacturing this year, in its latest effort to field uncrewed systems of the kind that have made a significant impact in the conflict, both on the battlefield and also at sea.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said yesterday that the government plans to invest 40 billion hryvnia ($1.08 billion) into the production of homegrown drone systems, although details of specific systems were not provided.
Shmyhal’s announcement came as he met with Ukrainian drone manufacturers on Tuesday. He said: “A year ago, through President Volodymyr Zelensky’s UNITED24 initiative, we raised more than 4 billion hryvnia to invest in Ukrainian drone manufacturers. At that time, there were less than a dozen of them. Today, there are more than 40 companies that have contracts with the state, and the production of UAVs has increased tenfold.”
He added: “The video of Ukrainian drones destroying Russian weaponry is the best result and evidence of our joint efforts with Ukrainian manufacturers. I thank everyone who brings our victory closer.”
A drone, more particularly, the first-person video (FPV) type that is now a prized weapon for Ukraine on the battlefield, is at the center of the scene below, geo-located to Donetsk oblast. This apparently recent video shows the final moments of a Russian T-80BV main battle tank, moving at speed along a treeline, before being engaged by an explosives-laden FPV drone. The tank appears to have some kind of ad-hoc protection on the turret, likely a ‘cope cage’ to counter loitering munitions and drones. In this case, it’s not enough, as the detonation of the tank’s own ammunition then obliterates it almost entirely.
In the next video, the target of the FPV drone is of a very different kind, namely a Russian cargo van, identified as a GAZ-330232, also in Donetsk oblast. Although the video is cut short, the end result was likely similarly catastrophic for the vehicle in question.
And more drones are apparently soon headed to the battlefield, with the announcement from Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov today that 1,700 drones will be sent to the front line to support the counteroffensive. “Among them are strike and reconnaissance copters,” Fedorov said, in a statement on Twitter. Intriguingly, he also said that “These drones are equipped with AI that will help to effectively recognize and then destroy targets.”
Belarus, Russia’s close ally in the war on Ukraine, has been hit with a new European Union ban on the transfer of military equipment and aircraft spares. The tighter export restrictions from the EU were announced today as part of an expansion of existing sanctions.
The move was revealed in a social media post from the Spanish government, with Spain currently holding the EU’s rotating chairmanship.
The new sanctions were said to be in response to “the situation in Belarus and the involvement of Belarus in the Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
Lithuania’s EU ambassador, Arnoldas Pranckevicius, confirmed in a social media post that the embargo covered “dual-use battlefield and aviation goods” and that is also included a blacklist of specific individuals.
At this point, the export restrictions are not yet finalized but will come into effect by the end of the week, providing none of the 27 EU member states have any objections.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, TASS reports an advance by Russian forces near Serhiivka in Luhansk oblast, close to the border with Kharkiv oblast.
According to Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, “The advance amounted to 3 kilometers [1.8 miles] along the front and 2.7 kilometers [1.6 miles] in the depth of the enemy’s defense.”
Elsewhere on the battlefield, Russia’s state-run Interfax agency reports that Russian forces claim to have struck at a Ukrainian fuel warehouse and training center in Donetsk overnight. These claims have not been independently verified.
Interfax quoted spokesperson Vadim Astafyev saying: “The group’s missile units delivered three strikes with volleys of Tornado-S multiple launch rocket systems at the accumulation of manpower and firepower of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, the fuel depot of the 77th Separate Assault Brigade in Druzhkivka, and the personnel training center of the 93rd Separate Mechanized Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Kostyantynivka.”
Meanwhile, Suspilne, Ukraine’s state broadcaster, reports that the Russian Armed Forces shelled six communities in Sumy oblast during the night and morning of July 26.
Ukraine, too, has announced advances against Russian forces, this time in part of the south of the country. According to Andriy Kovaliov, a spokesperson for the Armed Forces General Staff, Ukrainian forces had made progress in the direction of the southeastern village of Staromayorske. This is close to the chain of settlements that were recaptured by Ukraine last month in the Donetsk region, as part of the ongoing counteroffensive. Kovaliov said that, despite concerted Russian resistance, the Ukrainian troops were reinforcing the positions they had taken.
“Battles continue near Staromayorske, our defenders have successes, they were gaining a foothold on the reached frontiers,” Hanna Maliar, Ukraine deputy minister of defense said today.
Maliar added that there was currently fierce fighting underway near the villages of Klishchiivka, Kurdyumivka, and Andriivka on the southern flank of Bakhmut, the city that was the scene of an enormously costly months-long battle before finally falling to the Russians.
Moscow continues to look for ways to address the problem of replenishing its troop numbers in Ukraine. The latest measure will increase the maximum age limit to 30 for compulsory military service. Previously, the upper age limit was 27. Compulsory military service lasts for 12 months.
The measure was approved by Russia’s lower house of parliament yesterday and is widely seen as a more popular initiative than introducing another mass mobilization, such as the one that was controversially introduced in September last year.
Relations between Russia and Moldova — which borders Ukraine — appear to be deteriorating further, with reports that Moldova will reduce the number of diplomatic staff Russia has in the country. The move was reported by TASS, which quoted the head of the Russian diplomatic mission in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.
Moldova appears to have taken the decision after media reports that the Russian Embassy in Chisinau had significant quantities of satellite equipment on its roof, potentially for espionage. In response, Moldova summoned Russian diplomats on Tuesday.
Russian officials criticized the decision, saying it undermined the possibility of dialogue between the countries.
“In an attempt to curry favor with its Western sponsors, Chisinau has redoubled its Russophobic efforts,” said Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Relations between Russia and Moldova have been sour ever since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Complicating the matter is the presence of around 1,500 Russian troops in Transnistria, a separatist pro-Russian region of Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. The potential for further hostilities here is something The War Zone has explored in the past.
The enduring menace of landmines is something that we have mentioned many times in the past in our daily updates on the war in Ukraine, but there is now a new initiative that should help deal with them.
Kyiv’s allies have pledged $244 million for humanitarian de-mining efforts, according to Ukraine’s First Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko. These funds will be in addition to specialist mine-clearance equipment that will be supplied.
“Our task is not only to de-mine the entire territory in order to save people’s lives, but also to speed up this process,” Svyrydenko, who is also economy minister, said in a statement on the government’s website.
“This is a question of economic recovery, because the sooner we return potentially mined lands to circulation, the faster business will develop on them.”
In particular, large swathes of the country were heavily mined by Russian forces during their initial full-scale invasion in early 2022.
According to an estimate from the U.S. State Department last December, around 62,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory need to be checked for mines and other explosive hazards — an area approximately half the size of Germany.
One notable area that seems to be affected by landmines is around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, which is in a part of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces. Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which serves as the United Nations’ atomic watchdog, “saw some mines located in a buffer zone between the site’s internal and external perimeter barriers”, according to a statement from Rafael Grossi, the chief of the agency. These were said to be anti-personnel mines, although the number involved was not disclosed.
The mines in question were in “restricted areas” that operating plant personnel cannot access, Grossi said. However, an initial assessment from the IAEA concluded that detonation of one or more of the mines “should not affect the site’s nuclear safety and security systems.”
Russia and North Korea have announced plans for enhanced defense cooperation, although details of how this might manifest itself are unclear for now.
The Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, held talks today with his North Korean counterpart in Pyongyang.
“I am convinced that today’s talks will contribute to strengthening cooperation between our defense departments,” Shoigu said, according to a Reuters report quoting the Russia Ministry of Defense.
According to a report from Bloomberg, Shoigu’s visit to North Korea was primarily concerned with securing 152-mm artillery shells, produced by Pyongyang and badly needed to replenish Russian Armed Forces stocks.
Finally, we are seeing American submunitions from cluster shells appear on the battlefield after their first week or so of use. Unexploded submunititons were one of the greatest concerns with sending these weapons to Ukraine and about cluster munitions in general, which has led many countries to banning them. Still, both Ukraine and the U.S. believe the threat they post after deployment to friendly forces and civilians is far outweighed by the advantages they can bring to the fight.
That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report
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