World: Ukraine’s Push to Take Back This City Could Make or Break the War

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty © Provided by The Daily Beast Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The war in Ukraine could be breaking out into a new phase in the coming days, as Ukrainian forces gear up to launch a make-or-break counteroffensive against Kherson, a key city which Russian forces have occupied since the early days of the war.

Ukrainian forces have been preparing for weeks to to run an attack on Kherson, a key city in the south, close to Russia’s strongholds. The counteroffensive is “gathering momentum,” according to a British intelligence analysis issued Thursday.

But some American officials and lawmakers are hesitant to say the Ukrainian forces are guaranteed a victory if they go all in now.

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Ukrainian forces have been preparing for a counteroffensive for some time now. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week his forces have been advancing towards Kherson “step by step.” Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk urged civilians to evacuate the region to avoid the offensive earlier this month.

And an adviser to Kherson’s government, Serhiy Khlan, has suggested that Kherson will definitely be liberated by September. The strategically important city is just a couple of hours drive from the Crimean peninsula which was seized by Russia way back in 2014.

A woman who lives in a village on the border of Mykolaiv and Kherson Oblast greets a Ukrainian military member on July 25, 2022. Chernichkin/Zaborona/Global Images Ukraine via Getty © Provided by The Daily Beast A woman who lives in a village on the border of Mykolaiv and Kherson Oblast greets a Ukrainian military member on July 25, 2022. Chernichkin/Zaborona/Global Images Ukraine via Getty

Creating a Russian stranglehold across the south of the country and wrecking Ukraine’s economy by cutting off access to the Black Sea as well as the Sea of Azov has been a key goal of Putin’s invasion. That twisted dream would be all but destroyed if Ukraine can re-take Kherson. But a Ukrainian success might hinge on western aid supplies, which Ukrainian officials say can’t come fast enough—and failing in Kherson would be a devastating loss for Ukraine.

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But getting ahead of our skis would not be appropriate in advance of the assault—so much remains to be seen on the battlefield, warned Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA).

“There’s always a fog of war,” Auchincloss, who has previously commanded infantry in Afghanistan, told The Daily Beast. “You can never predict what happens after first contact.”

Concerns abound about whether the Ukrainian forces are adequately prepared to take on the Russians in Kherson.

Ukrainian officials have said they are going through between 5,000 and 6,000 rounds of artillery ammunition each day. Keeping up with that burn rate will change once the counteroffensive begins, and Ukraine might need three or four times that, according to The New York Times.

Ukraine’s offensive weapons supply and preparation will be key to their ability to take back Kherson, too. But current preparation might not be enough, by some lawmakers’ count. As Ukrainians eye a counteroffensive, the Biden Administration should step up its efforts to provide more High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and to provide air support, such as fighter jets, to Ukraine that could be pivotal in securing a win, warned Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).

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“The United States and our NATO allies and other democracies have provided tremendous support to the Ukrainian people—and I believe we need to provide more,” Lieu, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Daily Beast. “If we can give Ukraine additional advanced weapons such as advanced aircraft, and try to increase Ukraine’s air power, I think that will be immensely helpful to Ukraine.”

Lieu said he continues to press the administration to follow through on promises to consider sending fighter jets to Ukraine.

“Hopefully they can do that sooner rather than later,” Lieu said, referring to the Biden Administration.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, indicated that he is tracking the morale of Ukrainian fighters, and suggested that morale is in good shape.

“Morale remains high,” Swalwell said. “That’s the most important factor.”

Valodya, a 49-year-old man, volunteers as a cook for Ukrainian soldiers in Kherson, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine. Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty © Provided by The Daily Beast Valodya, a 49-year-old man, volunteers as a cook for Ukrainian soldiers in Kherson, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine. Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty

But Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksi Reznikov, has discussed the need to raise up a million man-strong army to take back southern territory Russian forces have seized.

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And Ukrainian leadership openly admit they still need more help to properly back their assault plans. Ukrainian political leaders have been pushing the United States’ military outpost in Germany to provide more equipment in recent days more quickly, according to The New York Times.

The U.S. Defense Department says it’s working to keep up with demand, as Ukrainians need more reinforcements to be able to attack Russians in Ukrainian territory.

“We understand the urgency, and we’re pushing hard to maintain and intensify the momentum of donations,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week.

Even so, Russia appears to be bolstering its defenses, in what appears to be a shift in strategy. In recent hours, amid warnings that Ukraine is preparing an offensive, Russia has already been redeploying forces to defend the south, according to Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

There are, however, some indications Russia is down for the count, at least for now. Russia hasn’t made any major gains since taking Lysychansk earlier this month. Russian forces in Kherson are "virtually cut off" from other Russian-occupied territories, according to the British intelligence analysis.

Just Wednesday, Ukrainian forces used American-supplied HIMARS to bomb Antonivskyi Bridge, a key bridge over the Dnipr river by Kherson which has been crucial to Russian supply routes, Kirill Stremousov, the deputy chief of the Russian administration for the Kherson region said.

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And Russia, as in the early days of the war, is not doing well in terms of supplying the war in Ukraine, according to John Kirby, a White House National Security Council Coordinator.

“His own defense industrial base is having a hard time keeping up with his unprovoked war in Ukraine,” Kirby told reporters last week.

An armored truck of pro-Russian troops is parked near Ukraine's former regional council's building in Kherson. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuter © Provided by The Daily Beast An armored truck of pro-Russian troops is parked near Ukraine's former regional council's building in Kherson. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuter

And although concerns remain that Russia is prepared to keep the fight grinding on, the Russian military doesn’t appear prepared to keep up training and equipment to levels necessary for decisive wins, according to Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).

“Russia can probably mobilize men but they cannot mobilize well-trained men and well-equipped men,” Gallego, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Daily Beast. “That puts Ukraine in a better position. I think its military probably is now on par or even better when it comes [to] their training with Russia.”

Assessments from the U.S. intelligence community show that Russian forces have been significantly depleted since the war began. While estimates from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have pinned Russia’s troop losses at about 40,000, U.S. intelligence has pegged Putin’s troop losses at close to 75,000 since the war broke out in February, according to Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

And MI6 chief, Richard Moore, said last week at the Aspen security conference that the U.K. intelligence agency believes Russia will tire out in the coming weeks due a manpower shortage.

All of the hurdles the Russian military is facing now, coupled with key weapons aid and intelligence support from the United States—which so far has helped Ukrainian forces go after Russian ammunition depots and other targets precisely—could lay the groundwork for a difficult but successful fight ahead for the Ukrainians.

“I have confidence that we are providing them with the weapons… and intelligence support that they need to precisely target Russian command and control and ammunition nodes,” Auchincloss said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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