The West is wrong to criticize Ukraine for not focusing its counteroffensive in one area, say experts

Members of the SPG-9 anti tank recoilless gun crew fire the gun onto Russian positions near the occupied Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on August 14, 2023 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.

Roman Chop/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

Western officials criticized Ukrainian counteroffensive tactics. 
But a think tank defended Ukraine’s strategy of attacking several parts of the front line at once.
Ukraine is making slow progress in its counteroffensive to drive back Russian forces.

A leading US think tank has defended Ukraine after Western officials said it was making faltering progress in its counteroffensive against Russia because of faulty tactics. 

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, DC-based think tank, pushed back against claims by US officials in the New York Times Tuesday.

They said that Ukraine was failing to achieve a breakthrough because it was spreading its forces too thinly across the 600-mile Russian defensive line, instead of focusing them in the south to achieve a breakthrough. 

But the ISW said that by attacking several parts of the front line, Ukraine was fixing Russian units in place and preventing them from reinforcing areas where Ukraine could achieve a breakthrough. 

“Criticisms of continued Ukrainian efforts in other sectors and calls for Ukraine to concentrate all available reserves on a single axis are thus problematic,” it said. 

It said Ukrainian attacks in Bakhmut in east Ukraine were preventing Russia from reinforcing an area further to the south, where Ukraine was seeking to break through Russian defenses. 

It also defended Ukrainian tactics on the southern front, where troops are trying to break through in the direction of occupied Melitopol. 

“Ukrainian offensive operations south of Velyka Novosilka proceeding in parallel with operations toward Melitopol present Russian defenders with multiple dilemmas and the need to choose which axis to reinforce,” it said.

“Sound campaign design requires balancing between weighting a decisive main effort and avoiding allowing the enemy to concentrate all reserves on stopping a single obvious thrust.”

In recent weeks Ukraine has been fighting a grueling counteroffensive, trying to breach Russian positions defended by miles of mines, and protected by heavy artillery fire. 

But as Ukraine struggles to make a decisive breakthrough, differences are emerging with Western allies over the tactics it’s using.

Ukraine has abandoned some of the large-scale frontal attack plans its forces were trained to use when they didn’t achieve a decisive breakthrough, and some Western equipment has proved ineffective at breaching Russian lines. 

A core aim of the counteroffensive is to cut off Russian supply routes between Russia and occupied Crimea. US and other Western officials told the Times that Ukraine is focusing too many forces in areas such as Bakhmut, and not enough on the southern front that they say should be the main focus of the counteroffensive. 

Some analysts believe that Ukraine has to achieve a decisive breakthrough in its counteroffensive soon, as a protracted conflict would be to Russia’s advantage.

Vitaliy Kryukov, a loitering-munition commander for the elite Adam Tactical Group previously told Insider’s Sinead Baker that Ukraine has to pick tactics that save as many of its soldiers as possible: “I think for the Ukrainian army, it’s no other choice but to make sure our loss is not drastic losses, even despite of the assault campaign.”

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