Months in the making, Ukraine is again boldly taking the fight to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Inside of Russia itself. In and around Bakhmut, and now, most notably, strategically southward in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast toward the “decisive terrain” of the Crimean Peninsula.  

We have called for strategic patience in these pages and elsewhere, cautioning that we would know when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his generals’ counteroffensive would take shape. We are now starting to see it develop in small villages and towns such as Robotyne and Verbove. 

It was never going to be easy. Especially since the Kremlin had months to prepare its defensive lines in Zaporizhzhia because of the Biden Administration’s dithering in getting Kyiv the full suite of ammunition and weapons that would best position Ukraine’s armed forces to achieve an outright victory over Putin. 

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Wars are managed in a variety of ways, leveraging the instruments of national power collectively known by the acronym DIME – Diplomacy, Information, Military and Economic. Up until now, given relative static battlefronts, the war in Ukraine has been predominantly one of military forces engaged in close combat. 

The results of which have played out in the information ecosphere with it being weaponized, creating a ‘Nebula of War’ and competing narratives.

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Washington urging Zelensky to press his counteroffensive. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry is pushing back on social media insisting they know best. And Russia trying to win the war using propaganda that Putin’s soldiers are unable to win on the ground. 

Nonetheless, Washington and Moscow’s attempt to shape and influence their distinctly different preferred outcomes of the war – arguably, a negotiated peace in terms of the United States and a defeated Ukraine in terms of Russia – are becoming irrelevant. Ukraine has weighted the DIME equation back to Military and in doing so is foreshadowing the beginning of the end of Putin in Crimea.  

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Ukraine’s hard-fought counterattack south of Robotyne in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Oblast is progressing south. Zelensky and his generals are encouraged by what they are seeing. The fog or ‘nebula’ of war is lifting, and Ukraine is on the move, while the Kremlin now finds itself in reaction mode – and facing the reality that maneuver warfare favors Ukraine.

Retaking Zaporizhzhia is key in isolating the Crimean Peninsula from RussiaIf and when the coastal land route is severed by Ukraine, Moscow would be reduced to reinforcing its military forces in Crimea via Black Sea shipping or across the Kerch Bridge. 

Once that happens, Kyiv would likely destroy the bridge using – air launched cruise missiles (Storm Shadow, SCALP or Germany’s Taurus missile. Ukraine’s innovative “Sea Baby" naval drones would be highly disruptive to Russian sea shipping and sustainment operations.  

To achieve this game changing, if not game ending result, Zelensky needs his counteroffensive forces to continue breaking through the layers of multiple Russian defensive belts which are heavily seeded with mines, trenches, dragon’s teeth obstacles and dismounted infantry guarding Zaporizhzhia. It has not been easy; however, Ukraine is doing just that. 

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Elements of Kyiv’s troops have liberated Robotyne, while others are pushing southeast toward the small city of Verbove and creating an expanding bulge southward. Each of these are significant as they are indicative of Ukraine having fully breached what is described as the main defensive belt, and are now being afforded manoeuvre west and south, while also being able to concentrate HIMARS and other artillery fires including cluster munitions on Russia’s layered defensive belts.

The significance of this movement southward is not lost on Washington, nor Moscow. After weeks of growing US criticism concerning the pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive – indeed, even its direction – Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged “steady [Ukrainian] progress.” 

Russia, in response, has been forced to reposition and expose their remaining best forces in Ukraine in order to block the advance, potentially leaving gaps in their defenses. 

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After Ukraine’s decisive breakthrough at Robotyne, the Kremlin dispatched elements of the once elite 76th Guards Air Assault Division (VDW) to attempt to shore up its defenses in the area facing Kyiv’s onslaught. 

Likewise, to relieve pressure in Zaporizhzhia, Russia again – either as an actual counterattack or demonstration to fix Ukrainian forces – is reported to have amassed 100,000 troops along the Kupiansk-Lyman axis in northeast Ukraine. 

Zelensky has forced Putin’s commanding general, Valery Gerasimov, to divide his forces away from Crimea’s “decisive terrain,” which will likely determine the outcome of the war. 

Zelensky’s National Guard and territorial defense forces will continue to attrit Russian ground forces in the Donbas as they did all winter and spring as his best trained and equipped forces continue to press south toward the Crimean Peninsula.

Predictably, Moscow cannot figure out how to publicly react to Kyiv’s breakthrough, let alone get on the same page. Lost in the Information aspect of DIME, Putin’s propagandists are struggling to explain the growing Military realities of DIME on the ground in Ukraine. 

Even as late as last Wednesday, Telegram channels were touting reports from Russian soldiers falsely claiming they still occupied Robotyne. Recent drone attacks on Moscow and elsewhere in Russia including the Pskov airport further contribute to the “noise” and counter the narrative given Russian citizens can now see and feel first-hand the Kremlin’s inability to defend their cities.

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Moscow is on the verge of panicPutin propagandist and former Russian general Andrey Gurulev appearing on Vladimir Solovyov’s streaming show, urged Putin to use a tactical nuke on Ukrainian forces in and around Robotyne, noting “Perfect. They are all bunched up there. Simply perfect.” 

Yet another Russian man-boy crying ‘nuclear’ wolf, albeit it was music to Solovyov’s ears who readily agreed.

Ukraine remains undeterred. Putin’s use of nuclear pacifiers by his propagandists may work for a badly misinformed Russian public, however, not on Kyiv – or Washington and Brussels. 

As Putin’s “red line” increasingly comes under assault, his only recourse remains targeting civilians and Ukrainian grain. Meanwhile, Ukraine keeps pressing south. 

Seizing Verbove and moving on to Tokmak is likely Ukraine’s next move notwithstanding the Kremlin’s efforts to forestall Kyiv’s growing momentum. 

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Taking Tokmak is vital as it would provide Ukraine with a glidepath to the major city of Melitopol and its control of Russia’s land bridge between Crimea and the increasingly war-beleaguered Motherland. It would also put Ukrainian artillery in striking distance of Melitopol itself and the ability to disrupt Russian lines of communication. 

Notably, Ukraine is also hitting its stride. Despite the enormous cost in lives – estimated at 70,000 dead and up to 120,000 wounded; not counting civilian casualties – Zelensky and his generals are taking the fight to Russia. Drone strikes on Moscow. Swarm drone attacks on Russian air bases, including Wednesday’s attack on the Pskov airport inside of Russia that destroyed multiple military transport planes. 

And Ukraine is manufacturing its own drones and surface vessels to continue launching a steady stream of cross border attacks.

Crimea is the end state. To achieve that, Zelensky and his generals must either isolate the peninsula, force a surrender or reconquer it. 

Ukraine is doing just that. Not only in terms of the close fight in Robotyne and Verbove, but in their Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) as well. 

As Gen. Ben Hodges, former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, recently stated: “The [Ukrainian] counteroffensive is more than the ground assault. UAF MDO have the initiative and are gradually making Crimea untenable for Russian Navy, Air Force, air defense.”

The war is by no means close to being over. Hard days lie ahead. But we are seeing the beginning of the end of Putin in Crimea – and eventually all of Ukraine. 

Even the Biden Administration has taken notice, as a senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday, “It's very important that Ukraine win this war. And by 'win,' I mean as President Biden said, Russians leave all of Ukraine.”

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Comments (4)

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Dee Albert
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Sadly Western leaders looked other way in South Ossetia, Eastern Ukraine, and Crimea, ignored the Budapest Agreement and started to give some older weapons to Ukraine only when West suddenly thought "WOW, Ukraine might win". England's "appeasement" of Hitler was only to buy time to arm. The West did not need time for anything in appeasing Putin. Both Georgian president Saakashvili and Ukrainian president Poroshenko made passionate pleas to the USA Congress, broadcast nationally on POTUS, with no effect. TIME and NEWSWEEK magazines predicted all of this years ago on cover stories. I grew up in Canada where sons and daughters of Ukrainian immigrants, many my friends, reached the heights of political and professional success. Russian immigrants accomplished nothing. I have no doubt who will win this war. SLAVA UKRAINI.

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Imokru2
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Before the war, but after the attack on Ukraine seemed inevitable, I was one of those that said that Russia would attempt to establish a land bridge between Russia and Crimea.
Ukraine will win this war, but I am concerned about Russia’s stance on Crimea. Putin has said on many occasions that he considers Crimea to be a part of Russia. He has also said that he would use nuclear weapons if the homeland were threatened.
It would be a good thing if Putin and that attitude were removed from the scene

Supporter5150
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@Imokru2,

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Wael
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@Imokru2,
Putin can not use nukes as these actions if really performed would get a similar retaliation .It is just psychological maneovre...
Moreover , China does not want such things to happen in the West because unfavourable export markets in the West triggers social uprising inside China .The world economy is so integrated ...
Would a divided Russia allow China to get Russian territories under its control or at least it's influence . Everything is possible ...

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Supporter5150
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Dithering? The American taxpayers have willingly donated over a hundred billion dollars in aid. In doing so, we decrease our readiness to fight a war with China. Everyone I know, including myself, does so with enthusiasm. My support is 100% and unwavering. Our support being described as dithering rubs me the wrong way. Glory to Ukraine!

Smuvdee
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@Supporter5150,

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Christopher O'Shea
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DATELINE KYIV OBLAST

Another thoughtful, informative, and timely piece of analysis.

Thank you, gentlemen.

V/r - IB

An American in Ukraine

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