With Kiev smarting from the loss of Artemovsk to Russian forces, the long anticipated counteroffensive by Ukraine began on 5 June. In the first few days Ukrainian forces launched attacks all along the front line and there are reports of towns being taken, lost and taken again, but to date there have been no significant inroads into Russia’s core echelon defences.
Doubts are multiplying across the collective West about Kiev’s ability to deliver a decisive blow against Russia or even to keep the pot boiling sufficiently to avoid an outright rout of Ukrainian forces.
The problem for Kiev is that every day that passed, delaying the grand opening of the fabled offensive, gave Moscow another day to further degrade Kiev’s reserves, hobbling the offensive before a shot was fired. Russia has conducted a targeted bombing campaign against arms caches, military warehouses and operational planning centres.
What happened in the case of Artemovsk should serve as a warning to the west to stop swallowing their own war propaganda. The operation to uproot the Ukrainian forces from Artemovsk (known as Bakhmut in Ukrainian) lasted for 224 days, prolonged by Kiev’s policy of drafting in fresh forces, sending more and more young men to premature graves without ever altering the strategic outcome. It has been estimated that 25 Ukrainian brigades, 9 battalions and 5 regiments, totalling not less than 120,000 men, were thrown into the struggle. What was intended as a trap set by Kiev to arrest the progress of the Russian resistance turned into a killing ground for Ukrainians.
Perhaps it was the disaster in Artemovsk, combined with the realisation that the collective West was not going to guarantee the indefinite supply of advanced weapon systems, that was enough to tip Kiev into ordering the long-awaited counter offensive.
Zelensky had repeatedly upbraided the West for its supposed tardiness in supplying weapons, in particular tanks and fighter jets, suggesting that the west would be to blame for delays in the so-called Spring Offensive. The offensive could go ahead without the West delivering the goods, he said, but only at an intolerable price in casualties. But his recent whistle-stop visit to EU member states gave little indication that this attempt at moral blackmail was going to pay off significantly, given that their economies are being torn asunder by the sanctions war initiated by their American ‘ally’, and given that their own arsenals are already drained to levels which could compromise their own national defence requirements.
The White House is wary of challenging Russia directly by supplying enough air cover to secure Ukrainian skies from attack.
Under the immediate impact of the loss of Artemovsk, US president Joe Biden mumbled that the US would be “launching some new joint efforts with our partners to train Ukrainian pilots on a fourth-generation fighter aircraft like the F-16.” However, when asked if the US had changed its mind about supplying F-16s to Ukraine, the White House denied any change.
The EU walks the same tightrope, expressing a readiness to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the coveted F-16s but refusing to be pinned down about actually sending any of the planes for them to fly. Zelensky’s dream of forming a ‘coalition of jets’ looks like a dead duck.
It should be noted here that Britain went out on a limb, not only equipping the Challenger tanks supplied to Kiev with deadly depleted uranium warheads, but also conspiring with the Ukrainian air force to bolt the British manufactured Storm Shadow cruise missile onto existing SU-24 warplanes. The good news is that the SU-24s have proved to be prone to getting shot down by Russian air defences, with 17 written off in fifteen months.
Whilst the West strives to maintain the polite fiction that it is merely giving arm’s length support to Ukraine in its little local conflict with Russia, of course all in the name of freedom and democracy, it is becoming clearer every day that the proxy Ukrainian war was but an opening salvo in a war instigated by the US against Russia. It is no accident that NATO, the backbone of that war, is just about to launch a mammoth NATO ‘training exercise’ in June. One report tells us that “The upcoming NATO exercise codenamed Air Defender 23 (June 12-23) will be the most significant military exercise ever carried out over the European skies and the most extensive deployment exercise of air forces in the history of the western alliance — involving 25 NATO countries, 10,000 military personnel and approximately 220 aircraft” (see M K Bhadrakumar, ‘Post-Bakhmut scenario in Ukraine war’, Indian Punchline, 28 May 2023).
The reality is that to date the ‘counteroffensive’, taking the form of desultory skirmishes along a wide area, has so far delivered nothing to herald a shift in the balance of forces in Kiev’s favour.