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Does Ukraine have a second summer push up its sleeve? on July 28, 2023 at 9:42 am

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Ukraine is trying to breathe fresh life into a largely stalled campaign to push back Russia’s forces, launching a major push in the southern Zaporizhzhia region this week. 

After six weeks of slow gains, Kyiv and Washington insist a second phase of the counteroffensive could unleash intensified attacks on Moscow’s forces and hasten Ukrainian gains in occupied areas. 

“Ukraine has a substantial amount of combat power that it has not committed to the fight,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week. “It’s at that moment, when they make that commitment, that we will likely see what the results of the counteroffensive are.”

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday described the fighting in Ukraine as an “intense battle” and emphasized Ukraine stands a good chance of regaining significant territory.

“We believe that the tools, the equipment, the training, the advice that many of us have shared with the Ukrainians over many months puts them in a good position,” Blinken said at a press conference in New Zealand.

Russia has confirmed the new scale of attacks in the south but said a large number of Ukrainian units were wiped out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday the “hostilities have intensified and significantly,” but seemed assured Kyiv would fail eventually.

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“The enemy achieved no success on any contact swath,” Putin told reporters. “All counteroffensive attempts were stopped, and the enemy was pushed back with high casualties.”

While military experts say a Ukrainian breakthrough is still possible, they fear the counteroffensive will culminate later this year without a major victory, which could push the war closer toward a freezing of the lines.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution who has tracked the war closely, said his “overall assessment” is the offensive is “going slowly and it’s likely to continue going slowly.”

O’Hanlon expressed doubt about Ukraine’s argument that it is carefully probing Russian lines for weaknesses and will achieve breakthroughs once holes and soft spots have been found. 

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“I’m skeptical because first of all, they’ve had a lot of time to probe and they already have been doing that,” he said. “Second, unfortunately, the Russians can always concede a little bit of territory if they have to, in order to reestablish the defensive line. 

“So if they start to see major Ukrainian progress in a given sector, then that’s the area where they … redraw the front line and build some trenches and minefields further back and then fall back to that latter position,” he added. “Because the problem with a slow advance is it gives the defender time to adjust and reestablish their fortification system.”

Ukrainian troops are focusing their advances around Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region as well as the cities of Melitopol and Berdiansk, both of which lie on the Sea of Azov in the Zaporizhzhia region and are key targets because taking them would cut off a land bridge from Russia to the Crimean Peninsula.

After more than six weeks of the operation, however, Ukraine has retaken only around 100 square miles of Russian territory, by some estimates.

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By comparison, Ukraine seized more than 300 square miles in a week last fall during the Kharkiv offensive and claimed to have liberated more than 3,000 square miles by the end of the operation.

Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar stressed Kyiv’s progress should not be defined in terms of land gains only. 

“The efficiency of the Armed Forces cannot be measured solely by the kilometers they advanced,” she said on Ukrainian television Wednesday, according to state-run news site Ukrinform

“Efficiency is a much broader concept. Our armed forces are very efficient in reducing the offensive and defensive potential of the enemy. It is increasingly difficult for the enemy to defend itself against our offensive.”

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The Kharkiv offensive and another operation in Kherson last year were major successes, leading to high expectations that Ukraine would liberate major chunks of the country in the ongoing operation. 

But those sky-high expectations were met with caution from experts, who warned grand successes were unlikely to be replicated again because Russian forces had months to dig in.

Federico Borsari, a fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said Ukraine was now shifting to a “more methodical” strategy, sending out small teams to clear mines and trenches. He said significant success in this offensive would depend on whether it works.

“We agree it still has the possibility and the capabilities to achieve a breakthrough,“ he said while acknowledging a stalemate was possible, which could lead to a freezing of the lines across the roughly 900-mile front. “That’s why Ukraine must be very careful.”

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The stalled offensive is raising concerns of an open-ended conflict in the Biden administration, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A stalemate would not be favorable to Ukraine because it only entrenches Russia’s position in eastern Ukraine. And any resulting cease-fire could allow Putin to build up his forces and attack again. 

An article published in the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft this week argued it would be self-defeating for the U.S. to continue an open-ended war, and it suggested looking at the armistice on the Korean peninsula as a potential model in Ukraine.

For now, even in the new operation, Ukraine is struggling against the superiority of Russian air power, expending high rates of ammunition and losing a large amount of Western-provided armor.

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It’s also draining U.S. supplies, with Biden agreeing to send Ukraine cluster munitions earlier this month as a stopgap while more 155 mm howitzer rounds are produced. 

Cluster munitions scatter dozens of submissions in areas where they are deployed, and are banned by more than 100 countries because they often fail to detonate and pose hazards to civilians long after a war has ended.

John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and now a senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said Ukraine has slightly outperformed his expectations. 

He pointed to Bakhmut in particular, where Ukrainian troops are retaking swaths of territory after Russia expended thousands of troops over a year to seize the city. 

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“If they were to close off Bakhmut and capture 10,000 or 15,000 Russian soldiers, that will be a significant defeat, with real political ramifications,” Herbst said.

He also argued that if Ukraine retakes up to 500 square miles of territory by the end of the operation, that would still be a victory.

“That’s not an impressive feat,” Herbst said. “But it compares very nicely with the failure of the Russian counteroffensive, which took nine months to take Bakhmut.”

​ Ukraine is trying to breathe fresh life into a largely stalled campaign to push back Russia’s forces, launching a major push in the southern Zaporizhzhia region this week. After six weeks of slow gains, Kyiv and Washington insist a second phase of the counteroffensive could unleash intensified attacks on Moscow’s forces and hasten Ukrainian gains… 

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Niremia Collective intends to provide capital and management resources to high-growth well-being startups as well as incubate new businesses.

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​ [[{“value”:”Niremia Collective intends to provide capital and management resources to high-growth well-being startups as well as incubate new businesses.
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​ [[{“value”:”Education tech company Blackbaud agreed to settle with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over the company’s security practices that resulted in a 2020 data breach. The FTC alleges that Blackbaud, a U.S.-based company that provides financial and administrative software to colleges, nonprofits, healthcare organizations, and far-right organizations, had “lax” security protocols that allowed attackers to
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​ [[{“value”:”Apple has tossed another crumb to investors wondering when the world will get to see some ‘Made in Cupertino’ GenAI: Expect Apple to reveal what it’s been working on in this buzzy slice of artificial intelligence “later this year”, per CEO Tim Cook. During an earnings call yesterday, Apple’s chief exec emphasized its ongoing investment
© 2024 TechCrunch. All rights reserved. For personal use only.”}]] 

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