‘Furious resistance’: Ukraine counteroffensive slowed by Russia

Ukraine sought to allay any disillusionment over small gains during the second week of its counteroffensive.

Ukraine pressed counteroffensives on four main fronts during the 69th week of the war, but made frustratingly slow progress because of stiff resistance from Russian defensive positions.

During a telethon on June 19, Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said over the previous week Ukrainian recaptured territory climbed to 113-square kilometres (44sq miles), only 13sq km (6sq miles) more than what Ukraine claimed it reconquered a week earlier.

“The Russians are putting up a furious resistance,” she said, pointing out Russian troops fired an estimated 5,800 artillery rounds and 277,000 bullet rounds in just a week.

Ukraine’s offensives were focused on Bakhmut and Donetsk city in the east. In the south, at the border between Donetsk and Zaporizhizhia regions, Ukraine advanced 7km (3 miles) into Russian-held territory towards Melitopol, and it maintained an open front in western Zaporizhizhia, south of Orikhiv.

Maliar estimated killed or wounded Russians at 4,600 and destroyed equipment at 400 pieces of hardware.

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu said Ukrainian forces launched 263 attacks against Russian positions since June 4. “All attacks have been repelled,” he said.

But Maliar was defiant on Telegram. “The biggest blow is yet to come. One must not measure the result of the work of the defence forces exclusively by settlements and kilometres traveled… The ongoing operation has several tasks and the military is carrying out these tasks,” she wrote.

She may have been referring to suspected Ukrainian strikes at ammunition depots far behind the Russian front lines. Repeated explosions at Rykove, in Kherson region, were suspected to come from a Russian warehouse.


‘Targets neutralised’

Russia also claimed to have inflicted materiel losses. The leader of the “We are together with Russia Movement” in Zaporizhizhia, Vladimir Rogov, said Russian long-range weapons struck Ukrainian ammunition warehouses in Zaporizhizhia city, which lies in free Ukraine, citing a series of explosions there, inflicting a blow on the counteroffensive.

Russia’s defence ministry said it successfully struck depots of Western-manufactured military hardware using sea-launched precision missiles, without saying where they had struck. “All the assigned targets have been neutralised,” it said.

Ukraine’s position is whatever delays it might have suffered, its counteroffensive has made gains and suffered no territorial losses.

“We have no lost positions. Only liberated ones. They have only losses,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address.

Fiercest battles

Ukraine’s general staff said Russia was focusing its attacks in the directions of Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Maryinka.

Ukrainian ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said Russia was prioritising the defence of Bakhmut.

“Despite the advance of our troops in the south and the loss of territory and settlements in this direction, the enemy continues to move some of the most combat-capable units to the Bakhmut direction,” he said.

His forces were dominating high ground and forested areas as part of a strategy to gradually push Russian forces out of Bakhmut, Syrskyi said.

Russia’s defence ministry said the fiercest fighting was in Zaporizhizhia, south of Orikhiv, where Ukraine launched waves of attacks by mechanised battalion groups, which were repelled. Russia claims it destroyed nine tanks and 20 armoured fighting vehicles.


Ukraine’s southern forces said they were advancing and capturing enemy equipment, suggesting Russian forces might be retreating in disarray in places. “The enemy is fiercely resisting, moving units and troops, using reserves, so we have positive dynamics,” said its press centre.

Ukraine also emphasised Russian manpower shortages.

Eastern military spokesman Serhiy Cherevaty said Russian forces in Lyman “use a mixed group, which includes motorised rifle units, and airborne units, and units of the combat army reserve, as well as territorial troops”.

“Storm-Z” units of prison inmates were being thrown into this mix. He also said Russian forces in Lyman were using obsolete T-62 tanks, some of which had been destroyed.

Russia’s defence ministry, on the other hand, prioritised announcements of destroyed Western equipment. Ukraine’s allies have donated more than 250 tanks and hundreds of armoured fighting vehicles, touted by Western military analysts as superior to anything in the Russian arsenal.

Russia said its forces repelled four attacks by a battalion tactical group in southern Donetsk near Novodonetskoye on June 18, destroying 35 tanks and some 70 armoured fighting vehicles, including Bradley fighting vehicles and Stryker armoured personnel carriers provided by the United States.

Its defence ministry said its forces also destroyed Bradley fighting vehicles and German-provided Marder APCs on the bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson. Russian soldier Andrei Kravtsov was awarded a million roubles ($12,000) for allegedly destroying a German-built Leopard tank “during a special operation”.

Ukraine did not confirm or deny these alleged losses.


Longer-term plans

Ukraine’s allies gradually shifted to longer-term pledges of military and financial assistance, evidently foreseeing a long war.

During the 13th meeting of the Contact Group on Ukraine at Ramstein in Germany, Canada pledged $500mn in new funding, 288 AIM-7 air-to-air missiles, artillery ammunition, training and maintenance for F-16s, among other things.

Denmark approved a fourth military aid package for Ukraine worth 2.95bn euros for 2023-2028. The US, UK, Denmark and the Netherlands pledged hundreds of air defence missiles. Norway, Germany and Denmark announced multi-year pledges.

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen proposed a budget of 50 billion euros to assist Ukraine over the next four years. The pledge was unveiled at a two-day London conference for the raising of funds to rebuild Ukraine.

An odd distinction

Shoigu announced Ukraine planned to use US-made HIMARS and UK-made Storm Shadow missiles against annexed Ukrainian territory.

“Deployment of these particular missiles out of the special military operation zone will be regarded as direct involvement of the USA and UK in the conflict and will result in immediate retaliatory strikes at decision-making centres in Ukraine territory,” Shoigu warned.

It was unclear where Russia would consider use of these missiles legitimate. Russia formally annexed Crimea in 2014, and Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexed the four regions of Ukraine he partially controls – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhizhia and Kherson – on September 30, following referenda denounced as illegitimate by the West.

Zelenskyy said the long-range Storm Shadow missiles provided by Britain were “now doing a very useful and accurate job at the front” – without specifying whether they had been used in the strike on the ammunition depot at Rykove.

Source: Al Jazeera