Kyiv, Ukraine – Despite suffering heavy losses over the course of nearly six months of war, Russia still had a clear advantage over Ukraine in a head-to-head battle that included brutal artillery battles. So the Ukrainian army seeks to wage war on its own terms.
Equipped with a growing arsenal of Western long-range weaponry and with the help of local fighters known as revolutionaries, Ukraine has claimed to have struck Russian forces deep in enemy lines, disrupting critical supply lines, and increasingly hitting targets essential to Moscow’s combat capabilities. One of the strikes against the Russians this week was a series of explosions at an air base in occupied Crimea, which a Ukrainian official said was caused by a raid carried out with the help of local fighters.
On Saturday, the Ukrainians claimed to have struck the last of the four major bridges spanning the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine, further isolating and preventing the resupply of thousands of Russian troops, according to Western intelligence officials.
“Of course they will try to reform and look for an alternative at the crossings,” Serhiy Khelan, adviser to the head of the military administration of the Kherson region, said in a Facebook post. “But it is time, money, and then as soon as they are ready and gain equipment and strength – we will destroy them again.”
It was the latest step in a campaign aimed at retaking the southern lands captured by Russia in the early days of the war, a boost that Ukrainians hope will weaken Moscow’s forces so much that they will be forced to retreat.
The change in Ukraine’s tactics did not lead to significant territorial gains. But it was able to stop the Russian advance across the country and stop the heavy losses inflicted on Ukraine in the spring, when up to 200 of its soldiers were dying daily.
Major Russian efforts in eastern Ukraine are now focused on trying to gain ground in the Donetsk region, and there has been heavy fighting in recent days in the area around the town of Pesky. On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry said the town had fallen, a claim that cannot be independently verified.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said last week that the US and British defense ministers had offered him advice: Mr. Reznikov said in an interview with Pravda, a Ukrainian news media.
“We don’t have the resources to pollute the land with corpses and shells, as Russia does,” he said. “So it is necessary to change tactics and fight in a different way.”
Instead of engaging head-to-head and trying to defeat the Russians by brute force, they are using a death-by-a-thousand-wound strategy.
Crucial to Russia’s efforts to hold territory in southern Ukraine is Moscow’s control of Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Prior to its all-out invasion of Ukraine early this year, Moscow sent tens of thousands of soldiers to the peninsula, and they were captured. Vast areas of the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia in a matter of days.
Since then, the railroads from Crimea have been crucial in enabling Moscow to transport weapons and heavy equipment to southern Ukraine. Last week, Britain’s Defense Intelligence Agency said the Ukrainians hit a major train line from the peninsula, making it unlikely that the railway linking Kherson to Crimea will remain operational.
The agency said the Russians were likely to race to fix it, but the attack emphasized a serious weakness.
Then, on Tuesday, a series of explosions rocked a Russian naval air base in Crimea, destroying at least eight Russian combat aircraft and dealing a severe blow to the naval aviation capabilities of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, according to Western military analysts.
Regardless of the cause of the explosions, it was not only a symbolically embarrassing episode for the Kremlin, but also highlighted Russia’s weaknesses in the southern theater.
The flexibility of its approach provides a clear advantage, said Vitaly Kim, head of the military administration in Mykolaiv, where the Ukrainian army organizes forces for its counter-attack.
“The Russians work according to the book, they deploy combat formations as they were drawn up in the Soviet Union,” he said in an interview last week. “Our men have read this book, understand it well, and use it for their own ends.”
Michael Schwartz Natalia Novosulova contributed reporting.
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