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The Dnipro River, a New Key Front Line for Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Against Russia

Ukrainian soldiers appear to have successfully consolidated their positions on the left bank of the highly strategic Dnipro River, an area that was previously under Russian control, according to a November 22 update from the Institute for the Study of War, which analyses the military situation in Ukraine on a daily basis.

In a new development, the Ukrainian general staff officially congratulated themselves on Wednesday on the Ukrainian “successes” on the left bank (Crimea side) of the river. “Until a few weeks ago, Kyiv had remained very discreet about its attempted incursions into Russian-occupied territory in the Kherson region. Now the general staff are bragging about it,” says Huseyn Aliyev, a specialist on the war in Ukraine at the University of Glasgow.   

New winter quarters on the Dnipro River

Ukraine’s “successes” on the Crimea side of the Dnipro River have fuelled tensions in Russia between the government and the “milbloggers”, mostly ultra-nationalist Russian military observers who discuss the conflict on social media. “Officially, Moscow repeats that all Ukrainian offensives have been halted in this region, but the ‘milbloggers’ have started to acknowledge on social media that Ukraine has made advances there,” says Sim Tack, a military analyst at the conflict monitoring company Force Analysis.

For almost a year now, the Ukrainian army has been testing Russian defences on the other side of the Dnipro River. However, before October 2023, soldiers crossing the river did not stay on the other side of it, as it was too risky to do so.

Everything seems to have changed just over a month ago following an attack on Pishchanivka and Poima, two villages located around 10 kilometres southeast of Kherson. Since then, Ukraine has been trying to set up winter quarters for a growing number of soldiers in the area. “It even seems that they have managed to take control of several villages,” says Aliyev.

Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces has intensified along the Dnipro River, a key front line.

It is looking more and more like Ukraine is using the left bank of the Dnipro River as a new front in its counteroffensive against Russia, which began in June 2023. “The main fighting is taking place around the village of Krynky – some 30 kilometres south-east of Kherson – where the Russians still seem to be holding their positions,” says Tack.

The objective: Repelling Russian artillery

However, it is not the current fighting that is making the situation dangerous for the Russian army. Above all, Ukraine has “succeeded in securing several crossing points over the Dnipro River, enabling it to reinforce its positions and rotate troops to be more combat effective”, says Tack.

Securing a river crossing is no mean feat, as crossing rivers is one of the most complex and dangerous military operations. This is why the Dnipro River is considered one of Russia’s best defensive assets in southern Ukraine.

Ukraine can now pride itself on having removed this obstacle for at least some of its troops. “For the moment, the Ukrainians are able to provide security for small groups of infantry, accompanied by a few light vehicles, crossing the river. But the area is not yet secure enough to attempt to send in contingents of tanks or heavy artillery,” says Aliyev.

Furthermore, a major offensive cannot take place in this region without heavy military equipment, says Tack. Ukrainian troops are currently trying to clear the road that runs from east to west along the Dnipro River in the hopes of pushing the Russian artillery as far back as possible to keep any Ukrainian tanks out of range of Russian guns, should Ukraine decide to send tanks across the river.

But the Ukrainian army has not yet succeeded in doing so and is in the meantime trying to decide whether to attempt to seize new territory. In addition to having enough soldiers stationed there to do so, “the Russian troops present in this region are less well trained and equipped than those in Bakhmut and the Zaporizhzhia region, where Ukraine has concentrated its main counteroffensive effort”, says Tack.

A risky decision

However, Ukrainian soldiers do not have enough firepower to reach Crimea, the main objective of any offensive in the Kherson region. “For the time being, these attacks can still be seen as an effort to distract Russia into transferring troops to this area, which would weaken Russian defences in the Zaporizhzhia region,” says Tack.

If Russia doesn’t take the bait however, then Ukraine would have to consider the possibility of launching a major offensive. This risky decision would involve mobilising a large number of forces. “We would need at least 100 tanks and several hundred support vehicles in addition to light infantry,” says Aliyev.

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Ukraine “probably does not have as many forces in reserve and would therefore be forced to transfer some of them from another part of the front”, says Aliyev. This could potentially provide Russia with opportunities for a counter-attack.

What’s more, organising this type of offensive not only takes time, but also risks turning the left bank of the Dnipro River into a death trap for the Ukrainian army. Both of the experts interviewed believe that Russia is waiting for its enemy to mobilise more forces on the left side of the Dnipro River before sending troops to try to surround the Ukrainian contingent and cut off the few possibilities of retreat. “That’s why the Ukrainians are taking their time: to see how the Russians react,” says Tack.

After all, Ukraine does not have many alternatives. “The counteroffensives in Bakhmut and around Zaporizhzhia have ground to a halt and the southern part of the Kherson region currently appears to be the main opportunity to show the world that Ukraine is making progress,” says Aliyev. In other words, the Ukrainian army will be forced to take major risks if it wants to prove that the Western-backed counteroffensive has produced tangible results.

Source : France24