Ukraine launches major Kherson counteroffensive

With Russia emptying out the Izyum area to reinforce Kherson in the south, Ukraine has recently had a chance to make some gains in the area. 

Dmytrivka, Dibrovne, Mazanivka, and Bohorodychne were all liberated the first week of August.

Earlier in August, Ukraine announced the liberation of five villages south of Izyum. Those advances were halted at Dovhenke, which remained in Russian hands. Ukrainian General Staff pronouncements lately, however, suggest that Russia may no longer be in control. 

Remember, General Staff talks in code. They won’t announce the Ukrainian liberation of a town, but if Russia shells it, we can assume Ukraine has control. They won’t announce when Russia takes a town, but if they announce an attack from that town, we can assume Russia has it.

This is from Saturday night’s update: 

In the Slovyansk direction, shelling from barrel artillery and multiple rocket systems was recorded in the areas of Dovhenke, Kurulka, Adamivka, Dolyna, Brazhkivka, Dibrivne, Bohorodichne, Krasnopillya and Kostyantynivka settlements. The enemy tried to conduct assaults in the direction of the settlements of Dovhenke and Bohorodychne, but had no success and was forced to retreat.

(Emphasis added)

Not only did they announce shelling at Dovhenke, but also an “assault in the direction of” Dovhenke. All the other towns listed are confirmed in Ukraine’s hands. So while they don’t come out and explicitly say it, it strongly suggests that Russia has been pushed out. 

If I had to guess, Dovhenke is a no-man’s land held by no one. It is literally a moonscape:

Dovhen'ke satellite imagery
That crater on Dovhenke’s west side was likely fertilizer storage.
Dovhen'ke satellite imagery
The approach into Dovhen’ke. 

Finally, some additional evidence that Russia may have been pushed out: 

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Dolyna is the next town south from Dovhenke, just 10-12 kilometers away. Russia never took this scene of endless assaults from Dovhenke’s direction. If Ukraine can now operate freely in Dolyna in broad daylight, without artillery or mortar fire to worry about, then it’s very likely Russian forces have been pushed further north.

None of this has any particular strategic value; it matters little who holds Dovhenke. Eventually, Ukraine will want it fully liberated, along with the rest of the country, but the war’s ultimate outcome won’t hinge on whatever is happening in this corner of the world.

Yet Dovhenke is a perfect symbol of Russia’s failures. It had such grand, lofty ambitions, and fancied itself a global superpower. “The second Army,” it claimed, was better than all but the Americans. Yet Russia struggled to take this tiny hamlet, and a couple of months later, it is still fighting for its control. 

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Let’s check in with Vladimir Putin.

What … what am I looking at? 

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Meanwhile, in Kherson, Russian things go boom. 

Ukraine promised a big counterattack in late August or September. While we are still well within that timeframe, I no longer see any urgency from Ukraine to start that counterattack. It is perfectly content watching Russia spasm out a few attacks here and there, picking up single-digit meters at great cost in equipment and manpower. Meanwhile, Ukraine is putting western artillery and HIMARS/MLRS to good use, systematically degrading Russia’s supply lines, ammunition depots, command and control headquarters, and air defenses. 

It’s worth noting that Russia has once again cancelled its sham annexation referendum in Kherson, so that travesty no longer needs to be short-circuited.

Additionally, fears that a rough winter might force Europe to sue for peace in exchange for Russian energy are looking less likely. 

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All across Europe, natural gas stockpiling efforts are proving effective. Germany, the nation most exposed to Russian energy blackmail, is just about to hit its 85% storage goals for October, and should be fully stocked up by the time winter arrives. And so Ukraine has a little breathing room determining the best time to launch its counteroffensive, free of political decisions that might otherwise rush an unprepared army. 

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Let’s see if Russia lets them in: 

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This story doesn’t quite support its headline. The U.S. has been using sealift since way back in March. There was no way they were going to airlift 200 M113 armored personnel carriers, or hundreds of thousands of artillery shells. Some of that stuff got pulled from NATO storage sites, but they are being replenished by sea. Furthermore, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of flights coming into Poland. This Twitter bot tracks those flights. 

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In a typical week, Rzeszow airport hosts 3-4 flights a day. The pace is picking up; a week ago, the numbers were even higher.

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I have no doubt the number of ships carrying war supplies has grown, but it certainly hasn’t minimized the air component. If anything, it seems to be growing. 

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