Recent Ukrainian advances hard to turn into war breakthrough, warn experts

One French analyst, however, said Kyiv’s recent gains on the battlefield against Russia were “fairly symbolic”.


Ukrainian successes after months of unsuccessful counteroffensive will be difficult to convert into a real breakthrough in its war against Russia, military experts told AFP. 

On Sunday, Kyiv announced its troops had reached the left bank of the Dnieper River, occupied by the Russian army. 

It claimed to have pushed Moscow’s forces back “3 to 8 km” on this front line in the southern Kherson region, without specifying whether Ukrainian troops were in full control of the area. 

If confirmed, it would be the biggest advance by Ukraine’s army against Russia since the recapture of Robotyne in the Zaporizhia region in August, following the launch of the counteroffensive in June.

Leader of Russian-occupied Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, admitted that “about one and a half companies” of Ukrainian soldiers – potentially hundreds of men – had established positions near Krynky village across the Dnieper, though he downplayed its importance. 

According to pro-Kremlin military expert Alexander Khramchikhin, the reconquered territory is “microscopic” and does not allow Ukrainian forces to deploy military equipment. 

“Without equipment, no offensive, only losses,” he summarises. 

Moscow, however, replaced the commander of the Russian “Dnieper” military group operating in the area at the end of October, due to the difficult situation on the ground, according to analysts.

French military expert Michel Goya told AFP the Ukrainian operation is “fairly limited, fairly symbolic”, but it “allows small victories to be declared after the failure of the main offensive.”

Kyiv needs heavy equipment  – and bridges

To convert its success into a major breakthrough, the Ukrainian army must manage to deploy its army on the other side of the river. This would involve crossing a large natural barrier and then manoeuvring in a marshy area during the rainy season. 

Kyiv’s first objective is to “cut Russian supply routes. To do this, they are constantly expanding their bridgehead, they are not only in Krynky, they are moving,” according to Russian journalist Michael Nacke. He emphasised that Russia “does not have the most professional units in this region.”

The Ukrainian operation “maintains pressure on the Russians, who are forced to shift part of their reserves to the Dnieper, to the detriment of other sectors of the front”, added French analyst Goya. 

Taking deeper positions in the south could also allow Kyiv to launch a larger assault towards the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014. But to achieve this experts estimate that thousands of men and vehicles are needed. 

“Bridges over the Dnieper are necessary [for such military movement], but any pontoon would be vulnerable to Russia’s air and land firepower which has not been completely suppressed,” said Mykola Bielieskov, a Ukrainian military analyst. 

He also pointed to the risk of Russian drones, which would be hard to counter. 

Only bridges allow “heavy equipment and logistics to pass. If we want to advance several tens of kilometres in depth, we must also advance our artillery otherwise we find ourselves cut off from all support,” explained Goya.

“The Ukrainians who crossed are infantrymen and naval commandos. They have a few vehicles but overall remain very light. They are mainly protected by their artillery which remains on the other side of the river,” he added. 

Several military sources note that ​​Krynky is deemed “secondary” by the Russians who are concentrating their military forces on Avdivka, an industrial city in the east that Moscow’s army is trying to encircle.