In recent days, the scene would become almost usual. In a huge plume of smoke, a new Russian ammunition depot was destroyed on July 18 in Nova Kakhovka, in the Kherson region, in southern Ukraine. For several weeks, the Ukrainian forces have been intensifying their attacks to recover this area which fell into the hands of Moscow at the very beginning of the invasion. But can they scale up?
It is in any case the ambition of kyiv. In an interview with The Times on July 10, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov announced the construction of a “one million” force to reconquer the coastal territories occupied by the Russians. A major challenge for Ukraine, as these are vital for its economy.
“Ukraine absolutely needs to free up its seafront to export its agricultural products, underlines Vincent Tourret, researcher specializing in military issues at the Foundation for Strategic Research. In addition, the territories located in the south of the country have suffered much less destruction than others, such as the Donbass, and are therefore more economically attractive.”
For now, the Ukrainian army has managed to approach Kherson – a city of 280,000 inhabitants in southern Ukraine – still under Russian control. “If Ukraine concentrates its resources, it could be able to retake the city and push the Russians back to the Dnieper, says General Dominique Trinquand, military expert and former head of the French mission to the UN. Continue to On the other hand, advancing on the other side of the river seems very complicated to me, as crossing the rivers can be difficult.
However, the Ukrainian troops in the area should not be as plethoric as the Ukrainian authorities have suggested. “The million men mentioned by the Minister of Defense corresponds to the total mass of regular troops and auxiliary troops in the country, notes Vincent Tourret. But the Ukrainians will not be able to position all their soldiers in the South, insofar as where it would weaken their defense on other front lines, especially in the Donbass.”
According to Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian armed forces today number nearly 700,000 soldiers, to which could be added, including the national guard, the police and the border guards, around 300,000 men. “If Ukraine does not lack soldiers overall thanks to the general mobilization, managing to equip and train these troops correctly poses many difficulties”, points out General Trinquand. Of which the Ukrainian general staff and its Western partners are well aware.
During a visit to kyiv in mid-June, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed the establishment of a training program for Ukrainian forces, with the aim of training up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days. A first cohort arrived in the UK in early July. Between 2015 and 2022, more than 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers had already benefited from training of this type.
At the same time, the reinforcement by the West of Ukrainian military capacities, particularly in terms of artillery, constitutes another weighty support. The arrival, since the end of June, of Himars American multiple rocket launchers – with a range of 80 kilometers – has been noted. On social networks, videos showing Russian logistics centers going up in smoke in gigantic explosions have multiplied.
“These new materials now allow Ukraine to strike Russian forces in depth: this is the reason why Russian ammunition and fuel depots are increasingly affected, explains General Trinquand. Destroy Russian logistics – which was already very laborious – will significantly hamper Moscow.”
In this context, a vast Ukrainian counter-offensive could push Moscow to revise its battle plans. “In addition to facing severe understrength, Russian planners face a dilemma between deploying reserve forces in Donbass or defending against Ukrainian counterattacks in the southwestern sector of Kherson,” the UK Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday. According to experts, the attack on Kherson could be a test of the Ukrainians’ ability to impose themselves on the offensive field.
But time is running out. As early as mid-May, the Kremlin had pleaded for an annexation of Kherson, as it had done for Crimea in 2014. The window of opportunity for the Ukrainian army could also quickly close at the end of the summer. , with the arrival of the autumn rains. “After November, it will begin to be difficult for the Ukrainians to conduct counter-offensives, confirms General Trinquand. Beyond the weather conditions, the forces involved will also be worn down by nine months of war.”