Something’s up in Ukraine

Source: Hot Air

Ukrainian accounts on social media are chattering excitedly this morning about activity in Kherson, the southern province that Russia has occupied since the start of the war. Ukraine’s government spent the last month warning that a counteroffensive to liberate the province was coming. Very soon. Any time now. Could be tomorrow! Could be the next hour! Tick tock.

Time is not on Russia’s side in this war, as they’re running out of men and munitions and are unwilling to risk the political backlash that would come if they instituted a national draft. But time isn’t on Ukraine’s side either. Winter is coming; as temperatures drop in Europe, so will European resolve as they try to heat their homes without Russian gas. Fall is coming too; that means rain and mud in Ukraine, which will slow down a counteroffensive.

The longer Zelensky waits to prove that he can reclaim occupied territory, the more nervous his western patrons will get.

The timing for any move to break the deadlock has emerged as a pivotal strategic decision for Ukraine’s government. Both sides are preparing for a protracted war, but Ukraine has greater incentive to try to avoid it by undertaking risky maneuvers as early as this fall — before the rainy season closes the window on possible offensives over open fields.

From the Ukrainian perspective, the mostly static trench fighting cannot go on indefinitely. Leaving Russia in control of much of the southern coastline would cripple Ukraine’s economy, already cratering from the war and propped up by Western aid…

“The very difficult state of our economy, the constant risks of air and missile attacks and the general fatigue of the population from the difficulties of war will work against Ukraine” over time, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former minister of defense, wrote in the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper. He said the military should be prepared to advance, rather than defend.

The Times published that piece three days ago. This morning Twitter is full of reports about explosions in the south and a possible Ukrainian breakthrough in the Russian lines.

Is this it? Has Operation Liberate Kherson begun?

A spokesman for Ukraine’s southern command confirmed to national media that “Today we started offensive actions in various directions, including in the Kherson region” but she wouldn’t describe the scope of those actions or their ultimate goal. That has some observers wondering whether this is truly the start of a massive counteroffensive of if it’s just a Ukrainian psy op aimed at terrifying the Russians into retreating prematurely. A report floated around this weekend that Putin was so unnerved by Ukraine’s surprise attack on the Saki air base in Crimea that he’s moved Russian aircraft based on the peninsula to safer locations, limiting the reach of the Russian air force in Ukraine.

A psy op involving reports of the Ukrainians routing Russian troops at the front and pushing forward would aim to do the same thing to infantry, causing panic among Russian units and leading them to withdraw hastily from Kherson.

The fog of war is thick so there’s no way to know as I write this what’s true and what isn’t. For instance, is this real or Ukrainian propaganda? Would a Russian soldier who’s under fire be livestreaming?

How about this, which was posted on Telegram purportedly by a Russian soldier stationed in Kherson?

How about this?

And how about this, posted by a well-known Ukrainian official?

I can recommend several social media accounts for you to follow if you want to stay updated hour by hour, with the caveat that they’re all pro-Ukraine and a reminder that fact and rumor routinely get mixed up in minute-by-minute war reporting. One is JimmySecUK, another is OSINTtechnical, and the third is strategist Phillips O’Brien. O’Brien believes that Ukraine has been implementing a sort of “flytrap” strategy in the south by telegraphing their intentions to take back Kherson. That encouraged Russia to send more troops to that part of the country — at which point the Ukrainians began using their fancy new western weapons to cut every major transportation artery in and out of the region.

If the great Kherson counteroffensive of 2022 really is now under way, the Russians have a problem. With major bridges across the Dnieper disabled, how do they get supplies in to their men? And how do they get their men out and safely across the river if the Ukrainians advance?

Even if the Russians manage to pull off a mini-Dunkirk and get their troops out, says the author of that tweet, they’ll have no choice but to leave gobs of equipment and munitions behind.

According to some reports, evacuations of workers in Russian-held parts of Kherson have already begun:

Again, no one in the media knows yet how ambitious this operation truly is. But U.S. defense officials are whispering to CNN that, indeed, this is the start of the Kherson counteroffensive:

Ukrainian forces have begun “shaping” operations in southern Ukraine to prepare the battlefield for a significant Ukrainian counteroffensive, two senior US officials briefed on the intelligence told CNN.

Shaping operations are standard military practice prior to an offensive and involve striking weapons systems, command and control, ammunition depots and other targets to prepare the battlefield for planned advances.

The US believes the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which has long been anticipated, will include a combination of air and ground operations.

Ukraine’s former president, Petro Poroshenko, also confirmed to CNN that this is it. Fingers crossed that it’s quicker and less painless than anyone expects.

I’ll leave you with this assessment from Britain’s defense ministry that the Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, has become persona non grata within Putin’s inner circle and that top generals are now reporting to Putin himself. It’s always a good sign in a war of conquest that’s going badly when the idiot who got his country into its mess decides to take the reins himself.