Ukraine Enters a 'Most Dangerous' War Phase

Counteroffensive will be most costly at the start; Western funding hangs in the balance
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2023 8:55 AM CDT
Ukraine Enters a 'Most Dangerous' War Phase
A Ukrainian soldier covers his ears while firing a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, May 29, 2023.   (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russian invaders looks to be underway. As Politico reports, it's a long-anticipated moment that is being closely watched around the world, including at the White House, as some senior US officials see President Biden's global reputation as hinging on its success. Here's what to know:

  • Unofficial launch: Ukrainian forces have launched attacks in the eastern Donetsk region in recent days. These are thought to be the start of a long talked-about counteroffensive, though they may be "a prelude to an even larger push," per the New York Times. Ukrainian officials are offering few, if any, details.
  • A 'most dangerous' phase: The Institute for the Study of War believes the counteroffensive is underway, citing "a general uptick in military activity across the entire front line," per Al Jazeera. It adds the counteroffensive—which is "most dangerous and costly" in this "penetration phase"—will likely consist of "many undertakings at numerous locations of varying size and intensity over many weeks."

  • The plan: Twelve newly-formed brigades, nine of which were trained by the US and other allies, are expected to take part in the counteroffensive to reclaim occupied territory, with a focus on parts of the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, per the Times. They appear to be probing the Russians' combat ability in the early stage, per Al Jazeera.
  • What the Ukrainians face: Russian forces have spent months building a network of defenses. Ukrainians will also encounter "table-flat terrain, with little cover along much of the southern front," which "leaves any advancing force of troops or armored vehicles vulnerable to enemy artillery," per the Times.
  • Rough start: Two senior US officials describe casualties for the Ukrainians in early fighting, per the Times. Russian war bloggers claimed heavy losses for the Ukrainian side, though this has not been verified and such claims "have often been exaggerated" in the past, per the Times.

  • Some 'results': Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Thursday that his forces had achieved "results" in fighting "very tough battles" in the Donetsk region, specifically Bakhmut, per Al Jazeera. A Ukrainian deputy defense minister said forces managed to "destroy a lot of enemy manpower" in Bakhmut, per the Times.
  • A make-or-break moment: If Ukraine fails to make a breakthrough with billions of dollars in weapons supplied by its allies, Western support could falter, "putting pressure on Kyiv to enter into negotiations with Moscow or freeze the conflict, cementing in place some of Russia's territorial gains," the Times reports.
  • Biden isn't concerned: Some Biden administration officials fear "any initial missteps ... could empower House Republicans to scuttle efforts by their Senate counterparts to boost defense spending," per Politico. But Biden appeared unconcerned Thursday. "I believe we’ll have the funding we need for Ukraine for as long as it takes," he said.
(Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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