The battle for Robotyne
Ukrainian forces on the southern front are surging forwards clashing against Russian defensive lines in the hope of a breakthrough. After many weeks of fighting it seems that the Ukrainian troops have captured Robotyne – a small settlement turned by the Russians into a forward stronghold blocking access to the main Russian defence lines. While the liberation of Robotyne is a considerable success Ukrainian forces might have paid a dear price for it. Ukrainian troops have been methodically assaulting Robotyne for many weeks, clearing forward defences, mindfields, neutralising strongpoints and engaging in artillery duels to erode Russian positions. This came at a cost however, with a number of Ukrainian newly formed mechanised brigades, equipped with new Western tanks, armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles suffering noticeable casualties as well as materiel losses including Bradley IFVs and Leopard 2 tanks. Once the mechanised brigades reached Robotyne itself the Ukrainian command utilised the more elite 82nd Air Assault Brigade armed with Challenger 2 tanks, Marder IFVs, and Stryker APCs to assault the weakened Russian forces, forcing the Russians out of the settlement in under a week, with minimal losses. Simply Ukraine used its less experienced, more expendable forces to forge the path for a deciding strike. Unfortunately it seems that a significant portion of Russian troops in Robotyne managed to conduct a withdrawal, and has since successfully occupied defensive lines further back, denying the Ukrainians a major rout of Russian forces and an immediate breakthrough of the Russian primary line of defence.
The Big Push?
As of now Ukrainian forces have launched a further significant assault in the area, concentrating a large number of forces at a single pressure point, presumably to try and break the Russian lines. According to some sources, unverified reports speak of as many as 10 brigades (or at least elements of said 10 brigades) operating currently in the Robotyne direction trying to punch through the Russian defences and repeat Ukrainian successes from the offensive last Autumn. In response the Russian began pulling available reserves to shore up their defences, including troops from Kherson Oblast and other areas of the Zaporizhia Oblast. While the information on the status of the assault are extremely limited this might the big push the Ukrainians have been striving towards since the onset of their offensive. This battle might be a decisive point for the future of the war. Should Ukrainians manage to break the Russians here, they could continue forwards to Tokmak – a key Russian held city, acting as a stronghold, but more importantly a garrison and supply hub for the significant part of the southern front. Should the Ukrainians be able to lay siege to the city the Russian forces in Kherson would have their supply lines severely hindered, potentially even unable to maintain their forces in the area. The timing of the Ukrainian assault also isn’t random, but seems specifically planned to allow Ukrainian troops enough time to break through Russian defence and reach Tokmak before the Autumn rains turn this entire part of the country into an impassable sea of mud. Ukrainians similarly utilised the mud season last year during their Autumn offensive, which allowed them to achieve significant gains without having to worry about major Russian counterstrikes as these would be bogged down by the mud. Furthermore, a genius move here by the Ukrainians is the fact that they do not have to storm Tokmak, but simply besiege it and blockade it, effectively rippling Russian logistics in the south, without paying the costly price of urban fighting. The Russian forces would then be forced to either assault Ukrainian lines in unfavourable conditions to break the siege and reestablish lines of communication or be forced to be slowly grinded down due to lack of fresh supplies and reinforcements.
While this offensive is very well planned it bases partially on the assumption that Ukrainian forces will maintain enough momentum and manpower to reach Tokmak and successfully cut the Russian lines of communication. It is possible that the previous almost three months of fighting have significantly attrited Ukrainian manpower which would make it much more difficult or even impossible to reach the previously mentioned objectives. One should not forget that there a still at least one and possibly two lines of Russian defences in the way, with a major bastion present in the settlement of Solodka Balka – directly in the way of the Ukrainian path to Tokmak. However, even lesser gains would be highly beneficial for Ukraine. Should the Ukrainians only reach Tokmak, without establishing a siege and cutting off Russian lines of communication, the close proximity of Ukrainian troops would still significantly hinder Russian supply and logistic lines on the southern front. Even smaller advances south of Robotyne would allow Ukrainian standard artillery to carry out fire missions against Tokmak, effectively endangering all the supplies and reinforcements transitioning through or stationed in it. Furthermore, Ukrainian gains in this direction would also endanger Russian defensive positions both to the east and west of Robotyne, this would either force Russian troops to abandon their positions or risk encirclement.
Furthermore, the increased focus on this part of the frontline would relieve pressure on Ukrainian forces in other areas, which could allow them to execute operations of their own. One such area could be the eastern bank of the Dnipro river where Ukrainian forces have recently ramped up their operation, establishing small bridgeheads and executing strikes on Russian positions. Moreover, should the Ukrainian assault on Tokmak succeed it would significantly hamper Russian capabilities in the Kherson Oblast, allowing for potentially larger operations, for example the crossing or ferrying of significant forces across the Dnipro to establish a new front and further pressure Russian forces in southern Ukraine.
The liberation of Robotyne and the major Ukrainian assault towards Tokmak may be the big make or break of the Ukrainian offensive. Should it succeed, the armed forces of Ukraine would be well positioned to retake southern Ukraine at the next opportunity for major offensive operations, that is Winter 2023-2024. Should they fail to achieve their objectives Ukraine will have to face another several months long period of attritional trench warfare, after already having suffered noticeable losses during their offensive.
Author: Sebastian Czub, analyst at Casimir Pulaski Foundation