Russian Forces Pressuring Ukraine’s Northeast to Divert Attention from Critical Fronts in Counteroffensive

by Ethan Kim
Strategic Maneuver

In the dense woodlands of northeastern Ukraine, concealed beneath pine branches, the barrel of a Soviet-era howitzer emerges, trained on a distant group of advancing Russian infantrymen, several kilometers away.

A Ukrainian soldier signals for the firing sequence, then swiftly retreats to cover. The resonating boom of the fired projectile unleashes a cloud of ebony smoke, intermingled with fleeting bursts of yellow flames. Adjacent to the scene, a growing accumulation of spent shells adorns the surrounding undergrowth.

Within this specific fragment of the expansive 1,200-kilometer (745-mile) front line, the Russian military orchestrates a determined thrust. This maneuver aims to immobilize Ukrainian forces, redirect their focus from an ongoing counteroffensive, and restrict the number of troops that Kyiv can allocate to more pivotal engagements in the southern regions.

This tactical move by the Kremlin imperils the momentum of the counteroffensive, which was initiated nearly three months prior. Kyiv’s endeavor to reclaim territory under Russian occupation has yielded only incremental gains coupled with substantial casualties. As the summer campaign season’s waning weeks draw near, Ukrainian troops grapple with the pressing urgency to maximize their advancements.

Presently, the Ukrainian military designates the engagements in the northeast, particularly in proximity to the town of Kupiansk within the northern Kharkiv region, as well as the sylvan areas near Lyman, as Russia’s principal offensive fronts.

Meanwhile, the crux of Ukraine’s offensive operations concentrates on the southern theater, where gradual progress inches the forces closer to the shores of the Sea of Azov. This strategic maneuver seemingly intends to sever the land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014. Such a maneuver would bifurcate the Russian-occupied expanse in southern Ukraine, undermining Moscow’s logistical conduits.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar exhorts observers to evaluate Ukrainian advances not merely in terms of kilometers or meters, but rather by the very fact that progress persists amidst these arduous circumstances.

While the Russian strategy maintains Ukrainian forces preoccupied along the predominantly stationary northeastern front, Russia capitalizes on the interval to bolster defenses in the south, inclusive of extensive minefields, according to Ukrainian authorities. The fortified entrenchments impede Kyiv’s southward advances.

Concurrently, the Ukrainians grapple with constraints in terms of manpower, aerial supremacy, and artillery dominance. The imminent advent of the autumn rainy season compounds the existing complexities. The mire-laden terrain will hamper both infantry movements and the deployment of heavy machinery.

Within the southern realm, Ukrainian troops have recently achieved noteworthy success in breaching Russian lines. Since launching the counteroffensive, Ukraine has advanced approximately 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) within the southern Zaporizhzhia region. Notably, they surmounted formidable Russian fortifications to reclaim the village of Robotyne last week, marking a tactically significant victory within that sector.

However, these territorial gains pale in comparison to the ambitions harbored by Western allies. Despite the limitations, securing control over Robotyne propels Ukrainian forces closer to the town of Tokmak, situated approximately 30 kilometers (19 miles) away. This town serves as a pivotal rail hub under Russian occupation. A progression of even 15 kilometers (9 miles) beyond Robotyne could bring Ukrainian forces within striking distance of Russia’s pivotal east-west transport arteries. This could potentially curtail Moscow’s combat effectiveness, contend military analysts.

“Legion,” a Ukrainian soldier stationed in Zaporizhzhia, asserts, “We have breached the initial line of Russian defenses, and the secondary line lies ahead.” This success, he attributes to NATO-provided armaments, particularly U.S.-manufactured Bradley combat vehicles, in conjunction with Ukrainian-produced drones capable of striking targets as distant as 60 kilometers (37 miles) behind Russian positions.

In specific sectors, such as the Robotyne area, the second line of defense is recognized as notably robust, remarks military spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun. Breaching these fortifications necessitates meticulous preparation.

Kyiv has refrained from explicitly outlining the objectives of the counteroffensive, beyond the overarching aim to restore Ukraine’s territorial boundaries as they existed in 1991.

In the northeast, Russia escalated its offensive activities in mid-July, amassing a substantial contingent of 100,000 troops. Scarred swaths of trees stand as evidence of Russian artillery bombardments against Ukrainian positions amidst the verdant forests near Lyman. The area, once known as the “silver forest” among locals, has now assumed a more somber identity as the “black forest.”

Near Kupiansk’s outskirts, Ukrainian forces traverse expansive open fields adjacent to the Synkivka settlement, where Russian forces concentrate their thrust. Villages in proximity lie in ruins, offering scarce avenues for Ukrainian cover.

Brigade artillery commander Viktor Yurchuk acknowledges, “The adversary persists in its ceaseless attempts to advance.” The ceaseless combat sustains its intensity.

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, Ukraine’s ground forces commander, discloses that Russian troops are undergoing reorganization both in the Kupiansk and Lyman sectors. The reinforcement entails the deployment of newly-formed brigades, divisions, and advanced weaponry. Maliar reveals that professional airborne units have been mobilized from the vicinity of Avdiivka, situated further south within the Donetsk region, where both armies are entangled in ongoing hostilities.

Beyond impeding the southward redeployment of Ukrainian forces, the Russian thrust in the northeast simultaneously establishes a protective buffer for the Kremlin’s supply routes. Moscow’s ambition includes halting Ukrainian progress in Bakhmut, where Kyiv’s forces recently seized control of elevated vantage points within closer proximity to Russia’s supply conduits.

For Yurchuk, this signifies that the intensity of the battles will persist unrelentingly. Having been engaged in combat for over a year and a half, he expresses the prevailing fatigue.

“Believe me, everyone is wearied by the ongoing war,” he asserts.

Behind closed doors, concerns among Ukraine’s allies surface, questioning the counteroffensive’s potential shortcomings. Soldiers retort that each kilometer of advance is a monumental accomplishment when confronting a well-fortified adversary.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan challenges the notion of a stalemate, asserting last week that Ukrainians are “adhering to their strategic tactics and timetable.”

The concerns of these allies reverberate within the ranks of Ukrainian soldiers stationed on the front line.

“It is profoundly challenging for our soldiers to hear criticisms about the sluggish pace of our advance,” discloses a drone operator known by the call sign “Salam,” affiliated with the elite Adam Group operating in the Bakhmut vicinity. “We are eyewitnesses to the frontline situation, and swiftness was never an expectation.”

This perspective resonates among numerous Ukrainian service members.

Reflecting this mounting frustration, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba remarked that denouncing the gradual tempo equates to “disparaging the very soldiers who dedicate their lives daily.”

“I would advise all critics to withhold their judgments, visit Ukraine, and endeavor to liberate even a single square centimeter firsthand,” he remarked during a visit to Spain.

George Barros, an analyst affiliated with the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War think tank, offers an alternative perspective. He contends that the counteroffensive’s trajectory aligns favorably, considering the available support.

Given Russia’s apparent limitations in reserve forces, even a modest Ukrainian breakthrough that severs a strategic juncture in Russian lines could potentially strain the Kremlin’s troops.

Presently, there is no discernible indication that Russia’s northeastern exertions exert a substantial influence on the Ukrainian offensive unfolding in the south.

“We possess around one more month before the arrival of the rainy season,” forecasts Shtupun. “During this interval, I am optimistic that both we and our adversary retain the potential for offensive actions.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Strategic Maneuver

What is the objective of the Russian offensive in northeastern Ukraine?

The Russian offensive in northeastern Ukraine aims to divert Ukrainian forces’ attention and resources from their ongoing counteroffensive, reducing their ability to reinforce critical fronts in the south.

How is Russia implementing its diversionary strategy?

Russia is deploying substantial forces and staging a fierce offensive in the northeastern region of Ukraine, particularly near towns like Kupiansk and Lyman. This diversionary tactic forces Ukrainian troops to defend against the Russian push, redirecting their focus from the more strategically important southern fronts.

How does this impact Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south?

The Russian diversionary offensive in the northeast hampers the momentum of Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south. By engaging Ukrainian forces and compelling them to allocate resources to the northeast, Russia aims to slow down Kyiv’s advances in the more crucial southern regions.

What are Ukraine’s objectives in its counteroffensive?

Ukraine’s counteroffensive seeks to reclaim territory under Russian occupation and restore its territorial boundaries as they existed in 1991. It also aims to gain control over strategic locations, such as rail hubs, to undermine Russian supply lines and increase the pressure on Moscow’s forces.

How has the terrain affected the battles in both regions?

The forested terrain in the northeast and the open fields in the south present distinct challenges for both sides. In the northeast, dense woodlands offer cover and concealment, while the southern open fields expose troops to direct engagement. Terrain features influence the tactics and strategies employed by both Ukrainian and Russian forces.

What role do international alliances play in Ukraine’s counteroffensive?

Ukraine receives support from international allies, including NATO, which supplies weaponry like combat vehicles and drones. The assistance aids Ukrainian forces in their counteroffensive efforts, allowing them to achieve incremental successes against well-fortified Russian positions.

How do Ukrainian soldiers view the progress of their counteroffensive?

Ukrainian soldiers acknowledge the difficulties posed by the well-fortified enemy and emphasize that each kilometer gained is a significant accomplishment. They contend that the slow pace of advance is a product of the formidable defenses they face and the need for meticulous planning.

How does weather impact the current situation?

The approach of the fall rainy season adds urgency to the ongoing battles. The muddy ground makes infantry movements and the deployment of heavy machinery challenging for both sides, further complicating the dynamics of the conflict and potentially affecting the progress of the counteroffensive.

What is the outlook for the coming weeks?

Despite the Russian diversionary offensive, Ukrainian authorities believe they still have time for offensive actions. Ukrainian forces are aiming to maximize their advances before the onset of the rainy season, while closely monitoring the evolving situation on multiple fronts.

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CryptoQueen September 3, 2023 - 9:13 am

this ain’t no crypto story, but ukraine’s defiendin’ like a pro! russia’s all “no no, don’t look south!” but ukraine’s like “bring it on, we got nato gear!” salute to them brave soldiers!

EconGuru September 3, 2023 - 3:12 pm

russia’s strategic move makin’ waves. ukraine’s countering, inch by inch. terrain’s a challenge, but support’s flowin’. let’s see if weather’s playin’ nice. economy and war, tangled dance.

JohnDoe99 September 3, 2023 - 7:14 pm

wow, this russia move is tricky, trying 2 mess up ukraine’s game. yikes, those battles sound cray cray in the forests n fields. but hey, ukraine’s pals got their backs, that’s cool!

SerenaWrites September 3, 2023 - 8:25 pm

russia’s like, “hey ukraine, look over here!” while sneakily doin’ their thing. ukranian troops r like, “cmooon, let’s keep pushin’!” but yea, weather’s not helpin’. go team ukraine!

PoliticalNerd September 4, 2023 - 1:45 am

russia’s diversion game’s sly, messin’ up ukraine’s plans. battles in the wild sound intense. international gang backin’ ukraine up. gotta watch that weather tho. geopolitics in action!


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