The Eastern Front and Bakhmut
As the war passes the 500 day mark Ukrainian armed forces are continuing their offensive in full swing. In the area of Bakhmut the longest battle of the war continues with considerable successes for the Ukrainians. The situation in Bakhmut has been presented by Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Hanna Malyar and Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi in separate reports, stating that Ukraine is now in control of the main dominant heights around the city and is under fire control of the Ukrainian forces.[i] Ukrainian troops continued their attacks on the northern and southern flanks of Bakhmut. In the south the vast majority of hills west of Klishchiivka are now under Ukrainian control, though supposedly the Russians continue to hold a small number of key hills that prevent a direct attack on the settlement. In the north Ukrainians are still attacking in the direction of Yahidne and Berkhivka, though they are facing resistance from Russian defensive positions erected there in the past several months. As offensive operations continue the Bakhmut area is shaping out to be the most successful and promising direction of the Ukrainian offensive.
However, in contrast to the Ukrainian successes in Bakhmut, further north the Russians are gaining momentum. Russian forces have entered Torske, a settlement that has been kept outside of their grasp for more than 10 months. Heavy fighting has been taking place, with Ukrainian Territorial Defence forces trying to stop the Russian advance. According to latest reports it seems that the Russian forces have been pushed out of the settlement, though the increased pace of Russian operations in the area might suggest that further attacks will soon follow.[ii] While the town of Torske itself isn’t very valuable it serves as a forward defensive line for Lyman – a key hub for Ukrainian logistics and a vital mustering point of Ukrainian forces. Lyman possesses key infrastructure, with key highways and a number of railways passing through it, as well as a geographical position. It serves as the primary hub for supplies and reinforcement into Siversk, as well as a number of other positions along the eastern frontline. Should Torske be taken the Russian forces will be able advance towards Lyman and endanger Ukrainian communication lines. Furthermore, an attack on Lyman would also pressure Ukrainian positions in Slovyansk, as Lyman protects the northern approach to the city. As of now heavy fighting is ongoing in Torske – Ukrainian reinforcements – heavy artillery strikes on Russian forces.
The Ukrainian offensive along the southern front continues with limited gains. Ukrainian forces are continuing their offensive operations south of Velyka Novosilka, slowly creeping and encircling the settlements of Staromaiorske and Urozhaine. In western Zaporizhia Oblast Ukrainian forces are launching further attacks against Robotyne, facing heavy Russian resistance, but continuing to move forward. If the Ukrainians break the Russians lines in this area, they would be able to facilitate additional gains and advances further west. In their efforts to breakthrough Ukrainian forces managed to locate and strike the headquarters of the 58th Combined Arms Army with Storm Shadow missiles.[iii] The strike resulted in the death of Lieutenant General Oleg Tsokov responsible for overseeing a number of Russian defensive operations along the southern front. The commander’s death might cripple Russian defensive operations and create opportunities for Ukrainian assaults.
The NATO summit in Vilnius was a key moment for Ukrainian struggles against the Russian invasion and a moment of unity for NATO allies. The big hope for Ukraine was a formal invitation to join the alliance and the establishment of concrete security guarantees. While unfortunately NATO did not offer such an invitation, the summit resulted in a plethora of guarantees, shows of support and pledges of further aid for the war torn country. Among many such announcements, NATO stated that due to high degree of cooperation, and enormous progress Ukraine will no longer have to fulfil NATO’s Membership Action Plan, effectively fast tracking Ukrainian ascension to the alliance. The alliance has also created a new NATO-Ukraine Council which will serve as a new forum for crisis consultations and decision-making, streamlining and enhancing the support for Ukraine – with the first inaugural meeting taking place during the summit itself.[iv]
During the summit 11 states established a coalition on training of the Ukrainian Air Force in operating and maintaining F-16 fighter aircraft, with the possibility of other types of fidget aircraft incorporated at later stages.[v] With this in mind, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov stated “I hope – I am an optimist – that after six months, we will see results.” – placing the first use of Ukrainian F-16 roughly at the beginning of 2024.[vi]
While the vast majority of NATO showed their ironclad will and commitment to the Ukrainian cause, it is impossible to omit or forget the words of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who called for an end to western military support and advocated for an immediate transition to peace negotiations with Russia.[vii] The Hungarian representative’s words have been viewed as scandalous, going in direct opposition to the commitments of the NATO member states and the alliance’s principles.
Western Deliveries in the Aftermath of the NATO Summit
As the offensive continues and the allied NATO pledge their support and cooperation during the NATO summit in Vilnius, new packages and deliveries to Ukraine are announced. The US has announced a new equipment package for Ukraine consisting of 31 155mm M777 howitzers, 32 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, as well as 32 Stryker armoured personnel carriers. These will be supported by additional 27 recovery vehicles, mine clearing equipment and reconnaissance drones. The package also encompasses all manners of ammunition, including artillery shells, HIMARS ammunition, anti-aircraft and anti-armour weapon systems. During the NATO summit other member states also committed to the Ukrainian cause. With Australia promising the delivery of another 30 Bushmaster MRAPs. Germany announced a massive package, to be delivered soon, with 2 Patriot launchers, 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles, 25 Leopard 1A5s (uncertain whether these are new vehicles or the ones previously promised), 5 Bergepanzer 2 armoured recovery vehicles and 20 thousand 155mm shells.[viii] This aid will serve to replenish losses sustained by Ukraine during their offensive operations, and allow them to maintain their momentum. The Western armoured vehicles are especially valuable as they are very effective at protecting the lives of the crew and transported soldiers, even when hit by enemy fire or mines.
France has also announced that it will deliver long range missiles to support the offensive efforts. These will most probably be the French SCALP-EG missiles – equivalent to the British Strom Shadows, with a range of up to 300km.[ix]Furthermore, the French move might have nudged the US to do the same with Joe Biden considering the delivery of ATMACS missiles.[x] The ability to execute far reaching precision strikes is very valuable, as exemplified by this week’s missile strike on Russian headquarters in Berdyansk which resulted in the death of Lieutenant General Oleg Tsokov as well as some other undisclosed higher staff.[xi] Should Ukraine be granted a larger supply of such weapons it could significantly cripple the Russian chain of command, logistics, and destroy key targets – for example the Crimean bridge.
While the NATO Summit in Vilnius might not have brought the much anticipated and ideal results, it proved that Ukraine’s Western allies, with minor exceptions, are united in their mission to aid and support Ukraine. This support, and the deliveries of new equipment will prove crucial in maintaining the Ukrainian offensive and laying the groundwork for the country’s future in the Euro-Atlantic family.
Author: Sebastian Czub, Analyst Casimir Pulaski Foundation
Supported by a grant from the Open Society Initiative for Europe within the Open Society Foundations
[i] “Українські військові взяли під контроль основні панівні висоти довкола Бахмута — Ганна Маляр”, ArmyInform, July 10, 2023, https://armyinform.com.ua/2023/07/10/ukrayinski-vijskovi-vzyaly-pid-kontrol-osnovni-panivni-vysoty-dovkola-bahmuta-ganna-malyar/; “Бахмут береться під вогневий контроль Сил оборони — Олександр Сирський”, ArmyInform, July 10, 2023, https://armyinform.com.ua/2023/07/10/bahmut-beretsya-pid-vognevyj-kontrol-syl-oborony-oleksandr-syrskyj/.
[ii] Riley Bailey et al., “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 12, 2023”, Press ISW, July 12, 2023, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-12-2023.
[iii] Riley Bailey et al., “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 12, 2023”, Press ISW, July 12, 2023, https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-july-12-2023.
[iv] “NATO leaders, President Zelensky meet for first NATO-Ukraine Council”, NATO, July 12, 2023, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_217565.htm.
[v] Countries included in the coalition: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
[vi] Dinara Khalilova, “Reznikov: F-16 training coalition of 11 countries officially formed”, The Kyiv Independent, July 13, 2023, https://kyivindependent.com/reznikov-f-16-training-coalition-of-11-countries-officially-formed/.
[vii] NEXTA, Twitter, July 12, 2023, https://twitter.com/nexta_tv/status/1679151135196676097.
[viii] Tim Martin, “Germany approves $769M weapons package for Ukraine, clears huge Boxer deal with Australia”, Breaking Defense, July 11, 2023, https://breakingdefense.com/2023/07/germany-approves-769m-weapons-package-for-ukraine-clears-huge-boxer-deal-with-australia/.
[ix] Laura Kayali, and Hans von der Burchard, “France and Germany pledge more weapons for Ukraine”, Politico, July 11, 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/cruise-missiles-and-tanks-france-and-germany-send-more-weapons-to-ukraine-russia-war/.
[x] Artur Bartkiewicz, “Administracja Joe Bidena rozmawia o przekazaniu Ukrainie pocisków ATACMS”, Rzeczpospolita, July 12, 2023, https://www.rp.pl/konflikty-zbrojne/art38726921-administracja-joe-bidena-rozmawia-o-przekazaniu-ukrainie-pociskow-atacms.
[xi] Isabel van Brugen, “Russian Lt. General Oleg Tsokov Killed in Ukraine—Reports”, Newsweek, July 11, 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/russian-general-commander-oleg-tsokov-killed-ukraine-berdyansk-1812149.