Adam Eberhardt PhD, political scientist, vice-president of the Warsaw Enterprise Institute foundation, and the head of the Centre for Eastern Studies, commented on the recent gains the Ukrainians have made for the Polish RMF radio.
“If we look at the past 100 days, Ukrainians have liberated more territory than Russians managed to capture. In this respect, we are seeing large ineptitude of the Russian forces, while the Ukrainians caught wind in their sail, […]” Mr Eberhardt told RMF radio.
Mr Eberhardt said, that retaking areas around Kharkiv is of importance for Ukrainians, not only because pushing the invaders back makes it harder to shell Ukraine’s second city, but also because it means that the defenders are no longer surrounded in a salient formed around the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
He does point out, that a similar counteroffensive in the south would be much more important, but also much harder. He says that Russia would want to annex the occupied areas in the south and that the bridgehead around Kherson is vital to the Russians for continuing to put pressure on Odesa and threaten Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea. According to the expert, this is the reason why Russian defences in the Kherson area are much more robust and better equipped with artillery, and so he believes that a Ukrainian breakthrough there is unlikely.
According to Mr Eberhardt, the rapid advance of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region is proof of more than just the Russian command’s ineptitude. It also revealed that despite the Kremlin’s advantage in the number of equipment, it has too few people to operate it.
“I think that in the Kremlin, at least a partial mobilisation is more and more often considered to make-up for manpower shortages. Moscow needs cannon fodder,” said Mr Eberhardt, but added that this could quickly turn into a problem. “Soldiers’ mothers may turn up, and they would generate societal discontent. I think it is a high-risk scenario, but Russia at this stage […] lacks offensive capabilities.”
Mr Eberhardt does not believe that the turning tide of the war will soon lead to an emergence of opposition willing to stand up to Putin, despite the effect the war had on the elites.
“I think this Ukrainian offensive will be used by the Kremlin propaganda to push a hardline narrative,” speculates Mr Eberhardt. “[No longer] Russia’s operation against Ukraine, but ‘The Great Patriotic War 2.0’, so a confrontation of Russia with the Americans, the British, Poles, Germans, French, and all those who wish to weaken and destroy great Russia. This is the only way to explain why the operation against Ukraine, that was to last 3 days, is in day 203.”
Mr Eberhardt also spoke of the unlikelihood of Russia resorting to using tactical nuclear weapons, at least at this stage. “I think such a scenario would be more likely if the Ukrainian army crossed the Russian border or [entered] Crimea, which the Kremlin elites treat as theirs and not something to be given up,” but he adds that any use of nuclear weapons would put Russia and Putin on equal footing to North Korea, that is an international pariah with whom nobody wants to talk.
He also expects that Russia may try to negotiate a cease-fire, but freezing the conflict would only enable Russia to regroup. At the same time, the Ukrainian military would lose momentum and the society’s morale would drop. “Zelenskyy and Ukrainian authorities are aware, that this would be a trap,” said Mr Eberhardt. He believes it is the biggest mistake Ukraine could make because the only way Ukraine can win victory over Russia is if the latter suffers from internal collapse, which “can only be brought about as a result of prolonged military action, even if today this looks absolutely unrealistically.”
Situation on the frontlines
Over the past several days, Ukrainians broke through Russian lines and liberated large areas of the Kharkiv Region up to the Oskil River, including the cities of Kupiansk and Izium, prompting the Russian forces to rapidly withdraw from the area.
On Sunday, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, announced that Ukrainians forces have managed to liberate 3,000 square kilometres and dozens of settlements.
“Ukrainian forces have penetrated Russian lines to a depth of up to 70 kilometres in some places,” reported the Institute for the Study of War, specifying that during the five days of the counteroffensive, the Ukrainians have liberated more territory “than Russian forces have captured in all their operations since April.”
On the southern front alone, Ukrainians claim to “have eliminated more than 1,800 invaders, more than 500 units of armoured vehicles, 122 tanks, two aircraft, two helicopters in the southern direction alone and about 10 cruise missiles.” These figures were announced by Natalia Humeniuk, the spokesperson for the Ukrainian Southern Command, on Monday.
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