Watching and Waiting
Ukraine reportedly gains toehold across river in Russian-held Kherson ahead of spring counterstrike
Ukrainian forces have successfully established positions on the eastern side of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine, and have likely been there for weeks, with "stable supply lines," the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported Saturday night, citing geolocated video and dispatches from pro-Russia war correspondents. Ukraine recaptured Kherson province up to the Dnipro, including its namesake regional capital, in November, at the end of its last big push to reclaim land from Russia.
Ukraine's apparent toehold across the Dnipro, near Oleshky, would be significant and could broadcast where Ukraine will strike in a spring counteroffensive expected to begin in May or June. Kyiv's plans for attacking fortified Russian lines remains a closely guarded secret, but advisers to President Volodymyr Zelensky say Ukraine won't strike until it has stockpiled sufficient armaments and troops and laid the groundwork by degrading Russian defenses.
Kremlin-backed regional officials said Russian forces are still in full control of the east bank of the Dnipro.
Ukraine's military did not confirm or deny having a beachhead on the east bank, and urged Ukrainians to be patient on the counteroffensive. But military spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk did say Russian forces on the east side of the river were "stealing everything they could get their hands on: domestic appliances, factory equipment, even ATM machines," and "whenever the Russians start stealing everything, it means they are not going to return." The Russians looted Kherson before retreating across the Dnipro last fall.
ISW assessed Sunday night that Russia has few reserve troops not committed to Ukraine, and most of its best-trained forces are up near Bakhmut, where Ukraine is still holding on to a small part of the ravaged city, and in the Luhansk region. The "badly understrength" Russian forces in Kherson, on the other hand, are "likely the most disorganized and undermanned" in Russia's invasion theater, ISW said.
Wherever Ukraine strikes, be it in one concentrated wedge or dozens of attacks along the 530-mile front, recapturing land will be more difficult than Kyiv's surprise blitz through Russian lines in Kharkiv province last fall, The Wall Street Journal reports. Russia has spent months building up anti-tank barriers and digging trenches to slow Ukraine's advance.
At the same time, "obstacles are not obstacles unless they're covered by fire," and it's not clear how many troops Russia has defending the fortifications, Rand Corp. analyst Scott Boston tells the Journal. "In Kharkiv, the Russians didn't have sufficient forces and it became a rout," he added. Now, "they may not be the best trained or coordinated troops, but they're there."