Ukrainian military has ‘shown how the Russian army can be beaten’

Recent Ukrainian frontline advances may offer hope for its counter-offensive

A tactical drill in the Zaporizhzhia region
A tactical drill in the Zaporizhzhia region
(Image credit: Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“The Russians are losing their war on Ukraine,” said Daniel Johnson in The Daily Telegraph. “They just don’t know it yet.”

In recent months, the Western media has been full of stories about how the Ukrainian counter-offensive is stalling. This is immensely frustrating for the Ukrainians: last week, the foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told critics abroad to “shut up, come to Ukraine and try to liberate one square centimetre by themselves”.

But the stories are also inaccurate. Over the past ten days, Ukrainian forces have decisively breached parts of the so-called Surovikin Line in Zaporizhzhia province in the south: the forbidding lines of mines, dragons’ teeth, anti-tank obstacles and trenches designed by the Russian commander Sergey Surovikin. Key villages have fallen, such as Robotyne and Verbove. If the Russians cannot hold the Surovikin Line, “they could well suffer a rout” – as happened last year. And if the Ukrainians break through, they could soon reach the Black Sea, cutting Russia’s forces in half.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Acceleration ‘offers hope’

Since 4 June, when the counteroffensive started, Ukraine has liberated just over 100 sq km of territory – a tiny percentage of the 100,000 sq km remaining in Russian hands, said The Economist. But the recent acceleration “offers hope”. Beyond the first section of the Surovikin Line, Russia’s defences are shallower and troop concentrations thinner. Western munitions – cruise missiles, rocket artillery, cluster bombs – have helped to degrade Russian forces. The idea of a “sudden surge” is not inconceivable.

Not inconceivable, said Frank Ledwidge in The Guardian, but unlikely. So far, at best, the Ukrainians have advanced eight miles; they have more than 50 miles to cover to get to the sea. More likely is a First World War-style conflict, a series of slow, bitterly fought “bite and hold” operations.

Ukraine must avoid ‘hasty timetable’

The Ukrainian military has “shown how the Russian army can be beaten”, said Richard Barrons in the Financial Times. “Not in 2023, but in 2024 or 2025.” The crucial thing is that Ukraine is not forced to commit to “a hasty timetable” because of Western impatience. Big wars “are fought at the scale and pace they evolve into”.

The Ukrainians have now found a way to advance without incurring crippling casualties. In the long term, the determining factor will be “defence industrial capacity”. Ammunition from new production lines being built by Ukraine’s allies will appear in 2024. This should be “a major turning point” in the war. In the meantime, “relentless pressure must be maintained on the Russian occupation throughout the winter”.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.