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Explained: Ukraine Could Soon Launch Counter-Offensive, Why Are Expectations Limited This Time?

While a Ukrainian counter-offensive is expected to be just around the corner, it does not have the element of surprise like last year as Russia has had months to prepare for it.

A Ukrainian tank moves during military drills close to Kharkiv, Ukraine.
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The Ukrainian preparations for a counter-offensive against the Russian forces are almost complete, according to reports.

The CNN on Saturday reported that the Ukrainina counter-offensive can start any moment now. 

However, expectations of a favourable outcome are limited as there is no element of surprise this time like it was in last year. Just ahead of the winter last year, Ukraine mounted a counter-offensive in which it retook large tracts of Ukrainian land from Russian occupiers. This time, however, Russia has had months to prepare for such an offensive. 

Reports suggest that Russian forces have increased personnel and equipment in the region. Long trenches along with anti-armour positions have been established along the frontlines to deter Ukrainian forces from making inroads, according to reports. 

Meanwhile, the United States-led West has delivered most of the pledged military supplies to Ukraine, which is expected to be deployed in the upcoming counter-offensive. 

Here we explain what we know of the Ukrainian counter-offensive and what we can expect from it as Russians have bolstered their defences.

Ukraine could start the attack any moment

The preparations for a counter-offensive are almost complete, according to reports. 

A top US general also indicated on Thursday that the attack should start sooner rather than later.

"Preparations are being finalised," said Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Friday, adding they were "mostly ready" for the counter-offensive.

The CNN reported, "Ukraine says its preparations for a spring counter-offensive are almost complete. When it’s launched, probably in the south, it will mark a pivotal moment in the conflict."

Ukraine is now in a "strong" position to retake occupied territory in the East after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATI) delivered 98 per cent of promised combat vehicles to Ukraine, including some 1,550 armored vehicles and 230 tanks, The Hill reported NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as saying.

"The armor rolling into Ukraine includes Germany’s Leopard tanks, British-made Challenger tanks and infantry fighting vehicles from Western allies, such as the American-made Strykers and Bradleys," reported The Hill, adding that these are much more advanced systems than those used by Ukraine in last year's counter-offensive. 

US assessment of Ukraine's counter-offensive

A top US general has said that US military has wargamed scenarios with the Ukrainians and have helped them with planning the counter-offensive. 

General Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s Supreme Commander, also said that while Russian forces have certain weaknesses, these weaknesses could be overcome with time, and the counter-offensive would have to be carried out before Russians could do it, according to Washington Examiner.

The Examiner reported that Cavoli revealed a little more about the close coordination between the US and the Ukrainian general staff in devising a concept of operations. 

"We went into a planning process with our Ukrainian colleagues last winter, and we developed with them a number of courses of action, wargamed them carefully, and when we came down to the key courses of action for an offensive, we calculated the amount of equipment and the various types that they required. We have fulfilled that. We have nearly gotten everything into Ukraine, and I am confident they have what they need for the offensive that we have planned with them," said Cavoli, as per The Examiner.

However, Cavoli also said that while Russian forces have suffered in the Ukraine War, their losses are limited to ground personnel and air forces are largely intact and the Russian military is not overly weak. 

Cavoli also pointed out that the Russian forces inside Ukraine are now bigger than at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"Their military has suffered significant losses in this conflict but they've mainly been in the ground domain. The tactical Air Force has lost about 80 fighters and fighter bombers but they have more than 1,000 of them left. The long-range aviation has not been touched. The Navy has barely been touched, lost a ship or two. The strategic nuclear forces, the cyber, the space have not been touched," said Cavoli, who made these comments in a US Congressional testimony.

CNN also reported that Russians have distict advantages in the aerial domain.

"But the Russians retain a distinct advantage in the air, and this could be critical in slowing Ukrainian progress. Ryan notes that to avoid Ukrainian air defenses, the Russian air force have increasingly used ‘stand-off’ weapons such as the 1.5 tonne glide bombs that have recently been used around Bakhmut," reported CNN.

Russian defences, limited expecations

As Russia has had months to prepare for the Ukrainian counter-offensive, expectations are limited and it is not expected that Ukrainians would be able to replicate last year's results. 

The CNN reported that the Russians have prepared long defensive trenches and have moved anti-armour weaponry to these defensive positions.

"Satellite imagery reviewed by CNN and other news organizations shows the extent of Russian defenses that have been built up in parts of southern Ukraine – layers of anti-tank ditches, obstacles, minefields and trenches. The defenses continue for hundreds of miles across the meandering southern front – where Ukrainian forces are expected to concentrate their counter-offensive in the coming weeks," reported CNN.

The report further said that coordination among various arms of Ukrainian forces would be key to a good outcome.

"But Ukrainian units will have to master combined arms maneuvers with this new equipment, integrating mine-clearing, the removal of tank obstacles and bridge-building with their assault battalions. That is complex coordination...And they will have to work with excellent coordination and communication to succeed," reported CNN.

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Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said he had "modest" expectations for the offensive because of heavy Russian fortifications.

"Russia’s got a lot of anti-tank weapons and other multiple lines of fortification. Ukraine’s got limited ability to provide air support for these incoming armored units and probably limited ability to sustain them as they move further away from their home bases of support. So I don’t expect big breakthroughs, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong," The Hill reported O'Hanlon as saying.

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