It might seem odd that any country would be touting an upcoming counteroffensive to the world media, but that’s the world we live in today. For Ukraine, announcing its intentions is as critical to its recruiting and fundraising efforts as winning in combat operations on the front line against Russia.
For months now, the Ukraine War has appeared to be bogged down in Bakhmut, an administrative center in Donetsk Oblast. The tide has appeared to turn back and forth in favor of either side as the two jockey for supremacy and take large casualties neither can afford. Following Ukraine’s successful Kherson and Kharkhiv offenses, the momentum began to turn at Bakhmut.
Did the Russians suddenly get better at fighting a war, or did they level the playing field in some other way? It appears as if Ukraine may have been holding back its efforts, applying just enough pressure to keep the Russians at bay in Bakhmut while preparing for its touted counteroffensive, one that could be on the horizon.
In April 2023, Ukraine announced it trained 40,000 Storm Brigade troopers in preparation for the offensive, rather than send piecemeal replacements to the Bakhmut front. These new troopers will join the regular Ukrainian army during the coming offensive. The eight Storm Brigades are a new kind of unit for Ukraine, trained to ambush enemy forces. They’re not the only ones being trained for the new effort, however.
More than a thousand Ukrainian troops are training with German forces inside Germany. Those soldiers are learning to drive and fight the new series of German-made Leopard tanks being sent to Kyiv. In February 2023, Germany authorized the sale of 88 Leopard I tanks. By March 28, 2023, Berlin confirmed the delivery of 18 Leopard II tanks to the Ukrainian capital, along with 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles and two tank recovery vehicles. The Leopard tank requires a crew of four to operate.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive is expected to come with the Spring thaw, after the last of the snow and ice melts, and the ground hardens from the thick mud that comes with such a thaw. Both sides of the war have expended hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition in the World War I-like stalemate currently happening in Bakhmut. The situation has some American official worried that Ukraine may run low on ammo before the offensive launches.
The United States is doing its part in helping resupply that ammunition in time, but has also supplied armored vehicles, Abrahms tanks, and bridge-launching vehicles that allow troops to quickly cross rivers. It’s part of an ongoing effort to build up the capacity of the Ukrainian armed forces and provide field commanders with options on the battlefield.
It’s not just troops getting new gear, vehicles, and training. American generals hosted Ukrainian military leaders for a set of tabletop war games and exercises in Wiesbaden, Germany in MArch 2023. The games are intended to help Ukraine manage risk and prepare for Russian moves in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Russia’s mercenary fighters from the Wagner Group have claimed to expel Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut, a claim denied by American intelligence. In reality, the fighting is still raging in the streets, Russian mercenaries just raised the Russian flag over the city hall. The U.S. believes Bakhmuit has only symbolic value to the overall war, while the RAND Corporation believes its a critical road network that makes pushing west into Ukraine easier.
No one is sure when the telegraphed Spring Offensive will come, but many believe it could be as early as the first days of May. In the meantime, everyone is preparing for the hard fight ahead.