The Ukrainian military launched a counteroffensive in the northeast region of the country has made significant progress and taken the Russians by surprise. The number of Russian military units in the Kharkov region had dropped considerably once Russia shifted the focus of its military campaign in Ukraine from the north to the east and south. In the lead-up to the much anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Kherson area in the south looked to be the focal point for the coming attack. Naturally, Russia shifted a large number of troops and equipment from the northeast to Kherson. This played right into Ukrainian hands. They took the bait and now Kiev’s forces are reaping the benefits. Ukraine is making claims of boisterous victories and significant progress. While it is clear significant progress is begin made, independent verification on some of the claims coming out of Kiev has not yet come. Western media is heralding the results of the counteroffensive as bringing about a new phase of the war and a shift from the war of attrition to a more maneuver-based campaign. As is generally the case with journalists, they might be jumping the gun. Ukraine must defend the ground it has recaptured in the northeast and there are indications of Russian forces stepping up attacks in the area.
Germany is under pressure to move more expediently on the promised delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine. After the Russian invasion began in February, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a plan to rearm Germany and provide heavy weapons to Ukraine. Now over six-months into the conflict, many of the promised weapons have yet to arrive. The German government has not explained the delays. Fears that Russia will suspend all gas deliveries to Germany are undoubtedly playing a role in Berlin’s long-term thinking. Given Nord Stream 1’s indefinite shut down and the worsening energy situation in Europe, I would not expect to see an increase in the number of German weapons arriving in Ukraine anytime soon.
Almost every major source now agrees that Ukrainian forces have launched their long-awaited counteroffensive in the southern area of the country. This is where the consensus ends. Judging by reports from reliable sources in the region, the counteroffensive has bogged down following initial successes and progress. The tone of Ukrainian government officials has also been dialed down to a degree. After announcing on 29 August that a new offensive in ‘multiple directions’ was underway, spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s southern command Natalia Humeniuk changed her tone. “We continue positional fighting and hold on to areas where we stand, trying to block the enemy from getting reinforcement. We are asking therefore for people to restrain from declaring liberated settlements – there are civilians there and the enemy may strike with missiles or from air.” Not encouraging words by any stretch.
It is not entirely clear what the objectives of Ukraine’s counteroffensive are. An information blackout around southern Ukraine has been in effect since 29 August. Curbing information coming out of the warzone is quite useful to the government and military. Especially if the counteroffensive loses steam. It allows Kiev to soften the blow on national morale if the worst case scenario becomes true.
Today, both Russia and Ukraine have made a number of claims that remain unverified. However, if the counteroffensive does make substantial progress in the coming days the tone and veracity of each side’s statements will change to meet the new realities on the battlefield.
Condemnation of Russia’s strike on the Ukrainian port of Odesa just one day after an agreement was signed with Ukraine that allows the resumption of grain exports from the country. According to city officials in the port city two Russian cruise missiles struck the port infrastructure while another pair was allegedly downed by air defenses. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken led the charge against Russia’s attack and released the following statement on Twitter. “The United States strongly condemns Russia’s attack on the port of Odesa today. It undermines the effort to bring food to the hungry and the credibility of Russia’s commitments to the deal finalized yesterday to allow Ukrainian exports.” Other diplomats and world leaders mirrored Blinken’s words in their own statements. ‘Striking a target crucial for grain export a day after the signature of Istanbul agreements is particularly reprehensible & again demonstrates Russia’s total disregard for international law & commitments,” European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said.
The agreement reached by Ukraine and Russia was set to unblock ports on the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grain and oilseeds, two of Ukraine’s biggest exports. The fate of that agreement is up in the air following the strike against Odesa.
This is only a short update, but I will be posting another Ukraine entry around mid-week.
China is absorbing the battlefield lessons coming out of the war in Ukraine and carefully analyzing the poor performance of Russian military forces early in the conflict. Beijing’s goal is to identify relevant lessons and apply them to plans for potential military action against Taiwan in the future. The topic was discussed at length during the Aspen Security Forum with senior US military and government officials openly speculating on how Russia’s long war will affect China’s designs for Taiwan. The opinions and comments put forth by US officials have been rather generic and understandably lacking details. CIA Director Bill Burns said yesterday “I suspect the lesson that the Chinese leadership and military are drawing is that you’ve got to amass overwhelming force if you’re going to contemplate that in the future.”
Western military leaders seem obsessed with the prospect of a Chinese invasion. Nearly to the point where other possible scenarios or war plans are ruled out entirely. For the past ten years US general officers and defense secretaries have periodically declared that China is at least 5-10 years away from the point where its military capabilities will support an invasion of Taiwan. And with every year that goes by, China’s military becomes more proficient and better equipped. Yet the 5-10 year window remains unchanged. Earlier this year as the war in Ukraine raged on, the Pentagon changed its tune slightly and estimated the Chinese military will be ready to conduct a cross-strait invasion in the second half of the current decade.
Personally, I believe the PLAN and PLAAF are in a position to conduct operations against Taiwan at the present time. An air and sea blockade could be launched at any time and remain in place indefinitely, barring an effort by an outside force to break the blockade. It must also be recognized that an air/sea blockade is preferable to a bloody land invasion of Taiwan. If anything, the war in Ukraine has demonstrated the ability of a smaller army to inflict defeats and heavy casualties on a larger and supposedly more powerful foe.
Russian cruise missiles struck the southern Ukrainian port of Nikolayev (Mykolaiv) on Sunday, marking the second missile attack against the city in two days. Ukrainian military officials reported the attack damaged industrial infrastructure in more than one part of the city and caused damage and fires to civilian neighborhoods. There was no official word on casualties. Nikolayev is a coveted objective for Russian forces in southern Ukraine. The city has endured several air and missile attacks in recent weeks as part of a Russian effort to soften the city’s defenses. Last month, Nikolaev’s mayor urged the remaining populace to leave the city if possible, citing a depletion of resources.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has sacked two of his government’s most senior ranking officials. The prosecutor general and head of the domestic intelligence agency were unceremoniously fired on Sunday. Zelenskiy claims the move was made as a result of the large number of treason investigations started on employees of law enforcement agencies, including the prosecutor general’s office and the domestic security agency. 651 cases of high treason had been opened against law enforcement personnel and at least 60 employees of the prosecutor’s office and the Security Service of Ukraine have remained in occupied territory and are working against the Ukrainian government.