By David Sole
Heavy fighting broke out in several locations on Sunday and Monday (June 4-5) in the Donbas region between Ukrainian and Russian Federation forces. The Ukrainian troops launched attacks with significant numbers of soldiers accompanied by tanks and other heavy armored vehicles. It does not appear that this fighting was the start of the long expected Ukrainian counteroffensive. Rather they may be a series of reconnaissance in force actions designed to seriously press the Russian front lines to evaluate for any weaknesses for follow up attacks.
While Ukraine officials didn’t discuss the actions, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that the Ukrainians were met with fierce resistance and suffered heavy losses in five separate locations in the southern Donetsk region. “As a result of the botched attack, in the last 24 hours [June 4] Ukraine has lost up to 300 service members, 16 tanks, 26 armored and 14 trucks…The [Ukrainian military] failed to accomplish its goals.”
On June 5 “Kiev put five brigades into action in seven directions, but was stopped and sustained even heavier losses: more that 1,600 men and 28 tanks, including eight Leopard tanks and three AMX-10 wheeled tanks, as well as 136 other pieces of combat equipment.”
The Ukrainians were met with air strikes and heavy artillery fire about 60 miles west of Donetsk City. The New York Times reported on June 6 that the fighting “could signal that Kyiv’s long-planned counteroffensive against Russia had begun.” One location cited was in an area to the west of Bakhmut which had finally fallen to Russian forces just weeks ago after many months of fierce urban fighting.
There is much speculation on when and if Ukraine can carry out a serious offensive against the Russian Federation which has incorporated four former Ukraine provinces following plebiscites held last year. The United States and its NATO allies have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops and supplied hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles to their proxy regime of Volodymyr Zelensky. It has been estimated that Ukraine now has up to 50,000 fresh troops available for an offensive.
Problems for Ukraine persist however. These troops have had minimal training and most of Ukraine’s best and most experienced soldiers have been wiped out in the past year. Especially costly to Ukraine was the futile attempt to hold on to Bakhmut where tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers were killed or wounded.
Ukraine also lacks adequate air defenses which will give an advantage to the still intact Russian air force to be used against any advancing tanks and armor. Zelensky recently complained in an interview that he desperately needed 50 U.S. made Patriot missile batteries but had only gotten two! There is no way that the western nations can supply anywhere near that number of batteries nor the missiles that they fire.
Russia also has vastly superior artillery with huge stockpiles of shells. Ukraine has been outgunned throughout the conflict and NATO has not been able to supply sufficient stocks of artillery shells.
Much western media attention has been given to Ukrainian drones attacking cities in Russia, including Moscow and also in the Crimean peninsula. But these have mainly been destroyed in the air and are not nearly numerous enough to make any significant change to the military balance of forces.
Recent attacks by Russian nationals from Ukraine across the border into the Belgorod region of Russia have captured the headlines. Even armed with tanks and armored personnel carriers these forays have been wiped out by Russian Federation armed forces. Less attention has been given to the fact that these Russians are openly Nazi advocates, an embarrassment to the U.S. and NATO whose weapons they are fighting with. In any case these attacks will not change the correlation of forces in any coming front line battles.
Support for the continuing open ended military support for Ukraine is weakening in the U.S. and Europe. The Associate Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released in February 2023 showed that 29% in the U.S. opposed providing weapons to Ukraine and 38% opposed to sending government funds.
As knowledge about the Nazi ideology of many Ukrainian military units becomes known it should be expected that support for the Ukrainian proxy war will diminish. Anti-fascist sentiment is still strong across Europe. On Wednesday, May 31 a German court sentenced four anti-fascist activists to prison for 27 to 63 months for attacking German fascists.
Protests broke out in many German cities in the following days. In Leipzig one estimate stated that 1500 protesters defended themselves against a police attack on their march. Dozens were arrested and up to 50 police officers were injured.
The U.S. and NATO have been pressing Ukraine to launch its offensive. Success on the battlefield could be used to bolster public support for continuing the war which, from the beginning was seen by neocons as a way of weakening Russia. But battlefield failure could seriously undermine public support for the proxy war.
If Russia is able to crush the coming confrontation and destroy the new U.S./NATO supplied army, then it is unlikely that the west could gather up the necessary assistance to provide another battle group for Ukraine.
This could lay the basis for a negotiated surrender by Ukraine. On the other hand the western hard liners might be driven to a desperate escalation that could dangerously widen the war.