Ukraine has different options for war plans in 2024 (cco.mil.in.ua) Author: Ulyana Bezpalko
The Ukrainian offensive in the South has actually been suspended. The Russians have become more active in the Donetsk region and want to return the territories they lost in the summer. About the results of the war in 2023 and forecasts for 2024 – in the material of RBC-Ukraine journalist Ulyana Bezpalko.
In preparing the material, materials from the Washington Post, statements by commanders and military speakers, as well as conversations with representatives of Ukrainian military and political bodies on condition of anonymity were used.
Revaluation – this is the word that can most accurately describe the year of the war. The high hopes that Ukraine and its allies had for the summer-autumn campaign did not materialize. In the main direction of our attack, after three months, the front line shifted to the village of Rabotino, although according to the plan this should have happened on the first day of the offensive operation. Today, fighting is still going on in this area, which is ten kilometers from our original positions.
Now, in their statements, the military and political leadership is less and less promising a quick return of the occupied territories. Society is beginning to understand that the war may drag on for years.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for NATO members to compete with Russia in supplying arms and ammunition to the front. There are more sympathizers of Moscow in the political arena of the European Union. Trying to find common ground, European leaders are facing difficulties in allocating aid to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the approach of the US presidential race has driven a wedge into bipartisan unity in Congress. Financial support for Ukraine has become hostage to political bargaining between the White House and Republicans.
In contrast, non-democratic terrorist regimes and dictatorships show that they are able to exert more control over the situation. Crowds of enemy soldiers – some under duress, some for money – continue to arrive at the front like a conveyor belt. Despite the disposal of thousands of Russians for one Ukrainian village, unknown to anyone in Omsk or Kursk, no one in the Russian Federation wants to protest against the war. And it is unlikely to happen, even though Putin is determined to go further and send even more people to kill.
The rapid success of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Kharkov and Kherson regions made us believe in the incompetence of the Russian army and the possibility of repeating the same breakthroughs in other areas. According to the publication, the option of an offensive in the South was discussed in government offices back in 2022. Some politicians and military men believed that it was necessary to break through to Melitopol in the fall of last year.
On the other hand, there were concerns that the Ukrainian army did not have enough forces and means for this, and therefore such an operation would inevitably end in numerous losses and collapse. For many, this became a convincing argument to wait with the offensive in the South, and in the meantime limit themselves to operations in the Kharkov and Kherson regions. Now some interlocutors in military circles doubt the correctness of this decision.
While Ukrainian troops were preparing for an offensive, the Russians were preparing a large-scale defensive operation (photo: GettyImages)
The enemy took full advantage of the time gained. While NATO countries were trying to find enough weapons and train Ukrainian brigades, the Russians were building a layered defense and laying minefields.
Since January, the Kremlin has set its sights on the occupation of Bakhmut, where, in five months of fighting, according to Joe Biden, the Russians have lost more than 100 thousand troops. As a result, the Wagner PMC virtually ceased to exist as a powerful combat unit. Ukrainian politicians and military speakers explained that holding Bakhmut was important in order to pin down the occupying forces before Ukrainian units launched their offensive. In May, the enemy announced the complete capture of this city. Therefore, whether the several months of fighting for Bakhmut increased our chances of an offensive or, on the contrary, depleted our resources, as was regarded in the United States, actually remains an open question.
Around the middle of this spring, RBC-Ukraine's informed sources in military circles argued that our offensive would begin in May in the South and East and would probably have only partial success. However, even such moderate forecasts turned out to be much more optimistic than reality.
The Ukrainian operation began not in May, but in June, although our brigades arrived several weeks earlier. The operation did not go according to plan from the first days. The entire territory through which Ukrainian units with armored vehicles were supposed to pass was covered with minefields. Their density exceeded all Soviet manuals – up to five minutes per square meter. Many of them were buried so deep in the ground that aerial reconnaissance could not detect them. The means available for mine clearance turned out to be insufficient.
The occupiers took up positions on the heights and began to cover our brigades, rallied into columns, with fire from anti-tank weapons, artillery, aircraft and drones, rallied into columns to move forward across the open Zaporozhye steppes. The mine-clearing equipment moving at the head of the column was the first to come under attack. Armored vehicles, trying to get out from under fire, risked exploding on mines surrounding the cleared passage. It was often necessary to clear mines from the operation areas manually and at night. However, it often happened that the Russians again remotely scattered new minis in cleared areas. According to OSINT observers, in the first days of the offensive, Ukrainian brigades lost up to 20 Bradley vehicles and about six Leopard tanks.
Some Western officials and military personnel believe that it was precisely these weeks of waiting in the second half of spring that gave the invaders time to prepare, so the offensive should have been launched back in April. Although in our government circles they claim that the Russians began preparing their defense in November and as of the end of April, the Ukrainian brigades still did not have all the necessary weapons.
In addition, not everyone in Washington, as the Washington Post already wrote about, agreed with the choice of an offensive in three directions – Melitopol, Berdyansk and Bakhmut. Like, this only led to a dispersion of forces.
“Having no quantitative advantage in either personnel, weapons, or equipment, our attack with a strike fist in one direction could lead to even greater losses. And end with even smaller territorial gains than we have now. Therefore, it is impossible to say for sure that the decision to go in three directions at once was wrong,” one of the influential Ukrainian military personnel reflects in a conversation with the publication.
Another point that the Washington Post draws attention to is that the United States did not share Ukraine’s decision to leave more experienced brigades to defend the East. While the newly formed ones are sent for training, and then on the offensive in the South. In the end, this had its own logic, the publication’s sources explain. If poorly trained units had been left to defend the East during the training of experienced brigades in winter and spring, the Russians could have approached Kramatorsk even before the start of our offensive.
The United States doubted Ukraine’s decision to hold Bakhmut (photo: GettyImages)
Somewhere in mid-summer, the command decided to concentrate the offensive only in the Melitopol direction, changing tactics. Instead of a combined arms battle, an offensive was chosen with small groups of infantry, which, step by step, recaptured enemy positions. Western officials and analysts believe the Ukrainian military has failed to fully master the combined arms approach and coordinated brigade-level combat. On the other hand, it is difficult to conduct a full-fledged combined arms battle without effective air cover and weapons capable of firing more than 80 kilometers away.
The change in tactics ensured movement forward, but still did not help achieve the goals. Our units reached the Rabotino, Novoprokopovka and Verbovoy areas on the main line of Russian defense. The occupying forces have brought reserves there and are regularly trying to counterattack us.
Overestimation of one’s own forces and underestimation of the enemy are the key factors that determined the result of Ukraine’s campaign at the front. After all, history does not know the subjunctive mood. Therefore, this experience, for which a high price was paid, should be used to analyze our own mistakes and more realistically assess our enemy.
In the fall, the enemy launched an offensive, which also has not yet come close to its strategic goals. The enemy was unable to level the front line along the Oskol River or reach Liman or Kupyansk. At the same time, the invaders became more active on the flanks of Bakhmut, trying to stop our offensive actions and capture Chasov Yar. Since October, the Kremlin has apparently focused on taking Avdiivka.
Moscow's initial plan was similar to the operation in Bakhmut. The enemy wanted to surround the city from the north and south, cutting off the main supply road. Now the occupiers are trying to push into the city itself from the surrounding area through the industrial zone. In the first month of this operation alone, according to the head of the Avdeevka MVA, Vitaly Barabash, up to 4 thousand Russian soldiers were eliminated and about 400 pieces of equipment were destroyed.
Despite the colossal losses, enemy troops still retain the ability to advance and attack in several directions at once. And the point is not only that there are simply more Russians in numbers, but also that their army has a very severe punishment system, like during the Second World War – penal battalions, barrage detachments and secret torture chambers, where they are thrown for refusing to go on the attack. In addition, many prisoners prefer to serve in the army rather than survive in the inhumane conditions of Russian prisons.
The publication's intelligence sources say that the Russian command wants to seize as many territories as possible in the Donetsk region before Putin's presidential elections in March, so that he can report any achievements to his electorate. Now the Russians have almost occupied the destroyed Maryinka, they are fighting for Avdeevka and may become more active in the direction of Ugledar.
The German publication Bild, citing sources in its own intelligence, recently wrote that the Kremlin wants to capture the entire Donetsk and Lugansk regions by the end of 2024, as well as reach the Oskol River in the Kharkov region. Further, in 2025 and 2026, Moscow intends to occupy significant parts of the Zaporozhye, Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkov regions, including the city of Kharkov.
Sources in intelligence services and military circles claim that this is indeed one of the scenarios on Putin’s table. And this goal corresponds to the current actions of the occupation forces at the front. One of the publication’s interlocutors clarified that the Russian army initially had such tasks until the end of 2023, but due to conditions at the front, plans are being adjusted and deadlines are being shifted. And despite any public statements by the Kremlin, they are not in the mood for any negotiations or peace.
In 2024, Ukraine may conduct a new offensive operation (photo: GettyImages)
As for Ukraine’s plans for 2024, two options are currently being discussed in government offices. Or, carry out a purely defensive operation, limiting yourself to strikes on enemy territory, increase your own production and accumulate forces for an offensive in 2025, which, in particular, is supported by the United States. Or prepare a new offensive operation for 2024, perhaps again in the South.
It is not yet known for certain which strategy will ultimately prevail. But whatever the choice, it still requires new asymmetric decisions, approaches and, of course, maintaining Western support. Otherwise, at best, we can only gnaw through ten kilometers a year.
Now any forecasting horizon ends in November 2024, when the presidential elections will be held in the United States. What to expect if Biden wins is approximately clear. However, Trump's arrival in the White House is more like roulette. His position will largely be determined by the military situation in the spring, summer and fall. If the front freezes or we continue to lose territory, this could push Trump to advocate an end to the war—not on Ukrainian terms.