The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) launched their long-awaited counteroffensive in June 2023. Spectators have since sat in the comfort of air-conditioned offices, thousands of miles away from the frontline, criticizing Ukraine’s progress on the battlefield. Meanwhile, far from the luxury of newsrooms and think tanks based in free and comfortable cities, every square meter of land liberated by the AFU from the Russian occupiers is being earned in blood. 

For every Ukrainian soldier who is killed, at least three are injured or permanently maimed. Parents bury their sons. Husbands return home to their wives in body bags. Children are forced to grow up fatherless. That is the price Ukraine is paying for its survival and freedom. 

War is not a video game or a movie. Real people in Ukraine are engaging in full-scale combat. The contact line is more than 600 miles-long. It stretches from the southwest in Kherson through Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk Oblasts to the east, and from Luhansk to Kharkiv Oblasts in the north. 

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Russia has built deadly defensive fortifications consisting of dense minefields, barbed wire, dragon’s teeth, anti-tank ditches, and manned trenches. Ukrainian soldiers must cross this obstacle course while drones monitor their every move from the sky, artillery barrages rain down on their positions, and snipers from the occupying army shoot at them from a distance. All while lacking air superiority. Despite their expertise, no NATO member state – including the US – has ever performed such a daunting military operation.

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The Kremlin launched the first phase of this war almost a decade ago. Moscow then escalated the conflict beyond the point of no return in February 2022. Despite limited tactical successes, the Russian army has failed to achieve all of its strategic objectives since then. Russia did not capture Kyiv nor decapitate Ukraine’s democratically elected government. It also failed to subject freedom-loving Ukrainians to proxy rule from Moscow.

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Instead of successfully demilitarizing Ukraine as the Kremlin intended, the Ukrainian state has become the most militarized country in Europe. Ukraine’s Western orientation, and its Euro-Atlantic future, are now irreversible. Kyiv’s divorce from Moscow is almost complete. 

Ukraine understands the enemy better than anyone. Do not underestimate the willingness and ability of the AFU to defeat the Russian army. Ukraine has recaptured up to 50 percent of the land Russia seized at the beginning of its full-scale invasion, including in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. It has also liberated thousands of civilians who suffered under Russian occupation. While slower and more cautious than some spectators would like, the AFU are still advancing in all directions and will continue to do so. 

As Ukrainian troops advance toward Tokmak and Melitopol on the Zaporizhzhia front, Ukraine intends to sever Russia’s land corridor to Crimea. This will make supplying Russian forces deep inside Kherson, on the south side of the Dnipro River, impossible. Whether Ukrainian soldiers reach the Sea of Azov this year or next, they will then likely destroy the Kerch Bridge and lay siege to temporarily occupied Crimea. Ukraine does not need to invade the Crimean Peninsula to make supplying and defending it untenable for Russia. Be patient. Give the AFU what they ask for and need. It will happen.

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Expecting Ukraine to fight with one arm tied behind its back has always been unfair and unreasonable. Expect – and encourage – the AFU to increase their attacks on logistics hubs and other military infrastructure in both Russia and temporarily occupied Crimea over the fall and winter. 

This does not constitute an escalation of the conflict, but a technical capacity the AFU only acquired recently. In fact, Ukraine has both a legal right, a battlefield imperative, and a moral obligation to strike military targets deep inside Russia. Other than victories in the theater of war, there is nothing more conducive to Ukrainian success nor favorable to Russian demoralization and defeat.

While Ukrainian airspace has been closed since February 2022, commercial flights and international airports based in cities like Moscow only began experiencing unprecedented cancellations, interruptions and delays this summer. This week, the AFU struck an airfield in Pskov – more than 600 kilometers away from Ukraine’s borders – destroying four IL-46 military transport aircraft. 

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Last week, Ukraine destroyed a Tu-22M supersonic bomber at an airbase near Saint Petersburg and an S-400 air defense system in temporarily occupied Crimea. A group of Ukrainian commandos also launched a successful raid on the Crimean Peninsula on Ukraine’s Independence Day. These operations are likely to increase in both scale and scope.

As a Ukrainian victory approaches, critics describing Ukraine’s attacks on Russian territory as “escalation” will multiply. Voices pleading for Kyiv to capitulate and negotiate with Moscow will get louder and louder. Appeals to slow down or reverse the West’s unequivocal support for the AFU will be amplified. Cries for Ukraine to exchange land for peace with deal-breaking Russia will also surge. 

Ignore the noise. They and other spectators like them have been wrong about the war since day one. Ukraine will keep proving them wrong. Be calm and trust in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

 

George Monastiriakos is a Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. You can read his published works on his website.  

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post

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