KYIV BLOG: Is a Ukrainian military hammer blow poised to strike Russian forces?

KYIV BLOG: Is a Ukrainian military hammer blow poised to strike Russian forces?
Reports say that Ukraine is undersupplied and running out of shells. Western promised tanks have been slow to arrive and its troops are exhausted. Or are they? / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin April 28, 2023

Did Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg just let the cat out of the bag? War watchers are waiting with bated breath for the long promised Ukrainian counter-offensive, which could start any day now, but according to reports, Ukraine appears to be undersupplied and worn out.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy badly needs another triumph similar to the rout of Russian positions in Kharkiv and quick recapture of Kherson in September that rocked the Russian command, in order to keep enthusiasm for supplying Ukraine with weapons and money by its Western partners high. Ukraine fatigue is his second-biggest danger in the campaign to expel Russia from his homeland.

And this spring’s counter-offensive is going to be a lot harder than the September Kharkiv push. Since Russia withdrew back to the left bank of the Dnipro it has been able to defend a shorter front with more men, and those troops have had months to dig in.

One of the reasons that Kharkiv was such a success was Ukraine has spent months talking about a counterblow at Kherson before the strike came, and the Kremlin took the bait, thinning its lines in the Kharkiv region to reinforce its position in Kherson with some 20-30 of its very best BTGs (battalion tactical groups), leaving the Kharkiv line thinly protected. It was a classic bit of military misdirection.

Such a trick is unlikely to work again. Moreover, Ukraine’s military situation is deteriorating by the week. As bne IntelliNews as reported, outgunned and undersupplied, Ukraine’s forces around the embattled Bakhmut are running out of shells and are exhausted from the endless onslaught of the Russian Wagner PMC.

Moreover, it has been reported that in an effort to keep the one supply road into the town open, Ukraine was forced to bring in some of the troops it was holding in reserves for the spring offensive. The move was successful, but those troops took heavily losses, calling into question whether Ukraine now has the manpower to be able to launch the spring offensive at all.

On top of that has been the disappointingly slow arrival of the potentially game-changing Leopard 2 tanks. Earlier this year the Western allies promised over 400 of these powerful German-made offensive tanks, and the first arrived at the end of March.

But since then more Leopards have only dribbled in. According to bne IntelliNews estimates there are now just under 40 of these tanks actually in Ukraine, but there have been no reports of them engaging with the enemy or battles turned by their decisive intervention.

Into this rather depressing picture, Stoltenberg tossed a thunderflash yesterday, announcing that 98% of promised military aid had already been delivered ahead of the mooted offensive. This includes, “over 1,550 armoured vehicles, 230 tanks and other equipment, including vast amounts of ammunition,” the Nato chief said.

230 tanks? That's a lot. On the face of it the knee-jerk reaction is to think that those are not Leopard tanks he is talking about, but probably the Russian-made T72 tanks that have been the workhorse of both sides. And in theory there are a lot of these available. Morocco, for example, has 136 of these tanks, used to defend against Algerians, and already sent 20 to Ukraine in January.

1,550 armoured vehicles is also a lot, and these are very useful for moving infantry about. Western supplied armoured personnel carriers (APCs)  have already proved to be invaluable to the Ukrainian army.

But 98% of promised weaponry already delivered? The West has promised a lot of weaponry. And “vast amounts of ammo”? It has been widely reported that Nato’s stocks have almost run out and that manufacturing deals have not been signed and existing production capacity is well below the levels needed to supply Ukraine.

But then think again. What if it’s true? The sudden appearance on the battlefield of three battalions of tanks, backed by a surge in artillery shells and fresh supplies of Javelin and HIMARs, could be the hammer blow that Ukraine needs to breakthrough Russian lines and once again rout the defenders.

The rhetoric coming out of the West has made it clear it is ready for peace talks, but the White House has also said explicitly that it wants to start those talks “from a position of strength.” Given the reporting on the Western munitions production limits is not wrong and has been reported from the start of the war, it would make sense to take those dwindling supplies and concentrate them into one overwhelming push to overcome the Russian defenders, who are also tired and also undersupplied.

The fields in Ukraine are still wet and muddy from the April rains but the May sunshine is days away. Rather than dismissing the talk of a spring offensive out of hand, or even anticipating a damp squib, it could be that Kyiv and Washington have played a months-long carefully thought-out strategy of misinformation while tonnes of arms and materiel were shipped to Ukraine, and the Russians are about to get a very nasty surprise.

If that is the case, then maybe Stoltenberg should have kept his mouth shut?