Ukraine yet to commit second wave of troops as counter-offensive makes 'slow progress'

Western officials say attack hinges on where Kyiv's generals deploy modern armoured brigades

Ukrainian servicemen prepare to fire a self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions. Reuters
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Ukraine’s counter-offensive is making “very slow progress” but it has a second wave of troops in reserve ready for a breakout, western officials have said.

The estimated six to eight brigades of the “second echelon” have not yet been committed to battle over fears they will be vulnerable to Russian air strikes without modern fighter jets.

But there is still hope that despite the extensive minefields laid across their advancing path in southern Ukraine, Russia’s main defensive line might prove brittle enough for Kyiv’s troops to breakout later this summer.

Two months into the counter-offensive, progress has been difficult with Russian defences proving resilient and their extensive minefields making rapid advances difficult across Kyiv's three lines of attack.

“It's slow progress but we're still waiting for the Ukrainians to commit their echelon against whichever axis they decide upon,” a senior western official told a media briefing. “Three axis are active at the moment, with the Russians defending as they can and the Ukrainians making progress, albeit very slow.”

While there has been some supplies of Nato mine-clearance vehicles, much of the work is done slowly by hand.

The offensive now appears to hinge on where Kyiv’s generals decide to commit their advanced brigades equipped with modern tanks such as the Leopard and Challenger.

Ukraine is currently pushing in three different areas and reports on Wednesday suggested that the second echelon might have been committed with up to 80 armoured vehicles advancing south from Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Meanwhile, Russia’s logistics chain is being targeted by long range missiles such as the Himars and British-supplied Storm Shadow, that are hitting ammunition and fuel depots as well as command posts.

That may yet have a significant impact once Ukraine manages to get through the minefields.

“This is not over yet,” the official said in response to The National’s question on whether a breakthrough was feasible by the end of summer.

“There is no reason why the Ukrainians cannot break through that first Russian main defensive line at the rate in which they continue to go. It's not going to be easy, we shouldn't shy from that.

“Progress will continue to be slow but then we'll see what's behind that first main defensive line. We are not discounting that the Ukrainians can achieve a significant breakthrough.”

Russian strike damages Odesa Cathedral

Russian strike damages Odesa Cathedral

The poor weather in southern Ukraine, with unusually heavy summer rainfall, has also inhibited their ability to manoeuvre armoured vehicles in the ensuing mud.

“Ukraine has been unlucky with the weather,” the official said. “While Europe has wildfires and a heatwave Ukraine has been quite wet and that has limited mobility.”

Despite reports posted by Russian troops on social media, particularly Telegram, of a lack of food, ammunition and artillery support, the source contended that its troops remain steadfast along the 1,000km front line.

“The ability of the Russians just to grind it out should not be underestimated,” the official said. “You're not going to see a break in Russian morale across the line, which will then see a collapse of the Russian force.”

He added that it only required a small number of enemy troops to hold off Ukraine attacks.

Reports from German defence sources on Tuesday criticising Ukraine for not using its Nato-supplied equipment properly were dismissed. “The Ukrainians will use the equipment as they see best,” the official said.

The removal of several high-ranking front-line Russian officers for questioning Moscow over supply issues has had no tangible impact on operations.

However, the official suggested that it did mean that commanders would be less likely to be truthful about conditions in reports to Moscow.

Updated: July 26, 2023, 3:58 PM