US think tank believes the window of opportunity to push back Russia has closed for Ukraine

Russia's withdrawal from Kharkiv and Kherson had given Ukrainian forces an opportunity to drive the Russian forces back, but it soon lost pace and has now turned into a stalemate

Rakshit Sharma February 03, 2023 14:51:29 IST
US think tank believes the window of opportunity to push back Russia has closed for Ukraine

Ukraine war representational image. AP File Photo

New Delhi: The opportunity to seize the initiative on the battlefield created by Russian military flaws and failures which allowed Ukraine to take back some territory has now closed and Ukraine hasn’t been able to make the most of it, says US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War.

Ukrainian officials have been warning of a fresh massive Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine for the last few days. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Fox News he believes “that (Russian offensive) has already started or not fully”.

Ukraine’s window of opportunity

The war in Ukraine, which started on 24 February 2022, reached a stalemate for Russian forces after they captured Lysychansk in early July 2022. After that the Ukrainian forces aided by the US supplied HIMARS and similar weapons from the EU launched a counter offensive. Russian forces’ withdrawal from Kharkiv in September followed by withdrawal from Kherson in October had in the recent months made it seem like the Ukrainian forces had one upped the Russian on the ground.

However, the counteroffensive soon again turned into a stalemate. The momentum gained by initial successes was lost and the aim of driving out the retreating Russian forces is still nowhere near being even partially achieved.

In the Kherson region, Ukraine took back the Kherson town located on the western bank of the river Dnipro, which divides Kherson in two parts, but there has not been much change in positions on the ground. The Russian’s who withdrew to the eastern bank are still there. In fact attacking the town from across the river, which has forced most of its residents leave.

On the eastern front, except for the rapid advances in Kharkiv because of Russian forces’ “strategic withdrawal”, there has not been much to claim for a success for Ukrainian forces.

Failing to make the most of the opportunity

The window of opportunity that the Russian withdrawal provided Ukraine could not be used to launch a wider offensive. The reason behind this failure is the West’s delay in providing Ukrainian forces with the long range weapons they needed to undertake the task, according an analysis by the US based Institute for the Study of war.

If the Ukrainian counter-offensive had to make a significant dent, then it would have required Ukraine’s western allies to send the weapons it is just now agreeing to send way back in June 2022.

“If the West’s aim had been to shorten the war by speeding Ukraine’s liberation of occupied territory, the assessment that stocks of Soviet-era weapons held by friendly states were running low should have triggered a fundamental change in the provision of Western aid starting in June 2022”, the ISW analysis said.

Russia, meanwhile, used the time to recalibrate its strategy and launch a renewed offensive in the east, where an intense battle goes on to capture Bakmut, and put more pressure on Ukraine.

“Ukraine’s inability to mount a subsequent counter-offensive in November following the Russian withdrawal from western Kherson Oblast gave Russia time and space to stabilize its lines and put pressure on Ukraine to which Kyiv had to respond”, the ISW says.

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