It is now clear that Ukraine’s eagerly anticipated counteroffensive has been a colossal failure. After three months, the Ukrainian army has made little progress pushing back the Russians. Indeed, it has yet to get beyond the so-called “grey zone,” the heavily contested strip of land that lies in front of the first main line of Russian defenses. The New York Times reports that “In the first two weeks of the counteroffensive, as much as 20 percent of the weaponry Ukraine sent to the battlefield was damaged or destroyed, according to U.S. and European officials. The toll included some of the formidable Western fighting machines — tanks and armored personnel carriers — that the Ukrainians were counting on to beat back the Russians.” According to virtually all accounts of the fighting, Ukrainian troops have suffered enormous casualties. All nine of the vaunted brigades that NATO armed and trained for the counteroffensive have been badly chewed up on the battlefield.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive was doomed to fail from the start. A look at the lineup of forces on both sides and what the Ukrainian army was trying to do, coupled with an understanding of the history of conventional land war, make it clear that there was virtually no chance the attacking Ukrainian forces could defeat Russia’s defending forces and achieve their political goals.
Ukraine and its Western supporters hoped that the Ukrainian army could execute a classic blitzkrieg strategy to escape the war of attrition that was grinding it down. That plan called for punching a large hole in Russia’s defensive lines and then driving deep into Russian-controlled territory, not only capturing territory along the way, but delivering a hammer blow to the Russian army. As the historical record makes clear, this is an especially difficult operation to pull off when the attacking forces are engaged in a fair fight – one involving two roughly equal militaries. The Ukrainians were not only involved in a fair fight, but they were also ill-prepared to execute a blitzkrieg and were facing an adversary well-positioned to thwart one. In short, the deck was stacked against the Ukrainian counteroffensive from the start.