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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Russia seizes the initiative: Has the Ukraine conflict entered its endgame?

Six months after the start of Ukraine’s counteroffensive near Artemovsk [which Kyiv calls Bakhmut], the operation completely collapsed and Russian troops were able to seize the initiative.

Launching a series of attacks, Moscow’s forces recovered some of the positions they had lost to the northwest of the city in the area of the Berkhovsky reservoir, and again took control over the line along the Artemovsk-Gorlovka railway on the southern flank.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian plan, which implied an offensive in at least three operational directions towards Melitopol, Berdyansk and Artemovsk failed.

Instead of focusing on one task at a time, as Western experts had recommended, Kyiv dispersed its forces and did not succeed in any of its goals. Now, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) has been forced to switch from offensive to defensive tactics.

The background story

Ukraine’s initially ambitious plan to launch an offensive on Artemovsk implied taking action in at least four areas: from Chasov Yar towards Kleshcheyevka and further along the southern flank of Artemovsk; from Chasov Yar to the northern outskirts of Artemovsk, south of the Berkhovsky reservoir; from Slavyansk in the direction of Artemovsk and Soledar; and from Seversk towards Soledar.

However, this plan did not succeed because of the lack of numbers and the timely transfer of Russian units, which replaced PMC Wagner fighters involved in the final battles for Artemovsk.

Attacks from the directions of Slavyansk and Seversk failed, while the assault on the city’s northern flank was only partially successful – the Ukrainian army advanced several kilometres and exhausted its offensive potential.

The AFU managed to actively gain ground only in the south, in the direction of Russia’s defences, constructed along the Kleshcheyevka-Andreevka-Kurdyumovka line.

The Ukrainians were able to take control over the first two villages only by mid-September, five months into their counteroffensive in this area. Kurdyumovka, however, is still controlled by the Russian army.

In the following days, the AFU continued its eastward offensive, managing to advance past the rail line in some sections.

Apparently, the next goal of the Ukrainian army was to expand the staging area on the eastern bank of the Seversky Donets–Donbass canal in order to reach the southern outskirts of Artemovsk and the northern outskirts of Gorlovka.

At just about that time, in October 2023, rumors about an impending assault on the latter began to circulate in the media.

Russians seize the initiative

In order to counteract this plan, the Russian army launched a series of counterattacks near the Berkhovsky reservoir. In their analysis of the summer campaign (dated September 25), Ukrainian military analysts from the military portal DeepState stated the following: “Things aren’t that good on the northern front, where there was initial success. But the strategic mistake of going to Berkhovka, exposed to enemy fire in the lowlands, cost us dearly. Now, the enemy has seized the initiative there.”

Based on information provided by its sources at the front, in October and November DeepState reported that the Ukrainian army had retreated from its positions.

By November 24, the Russians had practically returned to their starting points, once again threatening to take control over the villages of Bogdanovka and Khromove.

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