Delays in Western security assistance to Ukraine likely helping Russia launch opportunistic offensive operations along several sectors of frontline – ISW

Delays in Western security assistance to Ukraine are likely helping Russia launch opportunistic offensive operations along several sectors of the frontline in order to place pressure on Ukrainian forces along multiple axes, the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its report for February 18.

“Russian forces are currently conducting at least three offensive efforts—along Kharkiv-Luhansk region border, particularly in the directions of Kupyansk and Lyman; in and around Avdiyivka; and near Robotyne in western Zaporizhia region,” the report reads.

After the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiyivka and the subsequent Russian claim of control over the entirety of Avdiyivka, ISW, and several Ukrainian and Western sources assessed that delays in Western security assistance, namely artillery ammunition and critical air defense systems, inhibited Ukrainian troops from defending against Russian advances in Avdiyivka.

“Critical Ukrainian shortages in Western-provided equipment and fears of the complete cessation of U.S. military aid have forced Ukrainian troops to husband materiel along the entire front, which has likely encouraged Russian forces to exploit the situation and launch limited offensive operations outside of Avdiyivka area, which they have done along Kharkiv-Luhansk region border area since early January 2024 and in western Zaporizhia region over the past 48 hours. These Russian offensive efforts will likely hinder Ukrainian forces from preparing personnel and materiel for renewed counteroffensive operations, emphasizing the operational disadvantages that Ukraine will suffer if it simply digs in and attempts to defend for the rest of 2024 as some Western states and analysts advocate,” the analysts note.

At the same time, the ISW indicates that the Ukrainian forces were probably able to create new defensive lines near Avdiyivka. “The Ukrainian command also recently committed fresh units to Avdiyivka front to counterattack advancing Russian forces and provide an evacuation corridor for Ukrainian units withdrawing from Avdiyivka. These newly committed units are likely able to establish and hold defensive positions against Russian forces, degraded by their assaults on the town, west of Avdiyivka. Russian forces, which have suffered high personnel and equipment losses in seizing Avdiyivka, will likely culminate when they come up against relatively fresher Ukrainian units manning prepared defensive positions,” the report reads.

The analysts note that Russian forces are likely seeking to take advantage of two windows of opportunity with the recent initiation of their simultaneous offensive operations—the period before the upcoming spring thaw and the nuanced dynamics of Western aid provision. “Russian forces are likely trying to secure tactical advances throughout the theater while the terrain and weather generally favor offensive movement in order to exhaust and attrit defending Ukrainian forces as well as to secure favorable positions for future operations before the rasputitsa begins in earnest. The Russian military command, furthermore, likely realizes that security assistance from Ukraine’s European partners, particularly promised European deliveries of artillery ammunition, will begin to have effects in the medium term, likely before Fall 2024, and is trying to take advantage of Ukraine’s current shell hunger to pressure Ukrainian troops throughout the theater while Ukraine experiences a relative (but likely temporary) artillery disadvantage,” the ISW report.

At the same time it is stressed that the eventual provision of more European security assistance to Ukraine, however, will not fill the gap in critical equipment that the full cessation of U.S. military assistance would create, particularly with advanced air defense systems such as Patriot surface-to-air missiles. The ISW stressed that the scaling-up of European security assistance is necessary but not sufficient for Ukrainian forces to stabilize the front, let alone to regain the initiative in areas where Russian forces are pressing.


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