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Ukraine’s talking loudly about its coming counterpunch but holding key secrets tight because the stakes couldn’t be higher. Here’s what we know.

Ukrainian soldiers stand next to an armored vehicle.Ukrainian armored vehicles maneuver and fire their 30mm guns, as Ukrainian Armed Forces brigades train for a critical and imminent spring counteroffensive against Russian troops

Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images

  • Ukraine is gearing up for a much-anticipated counter-offensive against Russia.
  • Insider spoke to military experts about the possible timing, location, and goals of the coming assault.
  • Ukraine will be seeking to turn the tides of the war — and the stakes are huge. 

Ukraine is on the brink of launching a much-anticipated offensive against Russia following months of brutal fighting in the country’s east, and while little is definitively known about Ukraine’s coming counter, military experts agree on one thing: the stakes are monumental.

The country has been preparing its spring counter-offensive for months, clamoring loudly and publicly about the coming attack. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said last week that the country’s forces are nearly ready to hit Russia with an “iron fist” of Western weapons. 

“As soon as there is God’s will, the weather, and a decision by commanders, we will do it,” Reznikov said during an online briefing, according to Reuters. “We are to a high percentage ready.”

But amid the bravado, Ukraine has remained cagey with the most important details of the offensive, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dodging questions about the assault’s timing and location in recent days.

The impending offensive comes at a pivotal point in the 14-month conflict amid a bloody stalemate in Bakhmut. The Ukrainians will be looking to turn the tides of the war after a ruthless few months.

Insider spoke to two military strategy experts about what to expect from Ukraine’s forthcoming fight.

When will the offensive begin?

The fighting could start as soon as tomorrow or it could still be weeks before an assault begins; it’s even possible the beginning components of the offensive are already underway.

“The short answer is soon,” said Mark Cancian, a retired US Marine Corps colonel and a senior advisor with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ security program.

Military leaders must make several considerations when timing an offensive, including the combat readiness of their own troops and the enemy’s, as well as the status of their reserves and equipment, military experts told Insider. Ahead of this specific offensive, Ukraine was also likely waiting for the ground to dry after a cold and muddy winter

“On the one hand, there’s no immediate pressure. They could launch it anytime between now and the fall,” Cancian told Insider.

But there’s more than just military strategy to consider — politics plays a key role as well, military experts said.

“They’ve built so much expectation and the current stalemate plays to the Russians,” Cancian added. “If the frontlines stopped where they are today, that would essentially be a Russian victory.”

The nebulous nature of the offensive’s timing actually plays to Ukraine’s advantage, Mick Ryan, a retired Major General in the Australian Army and a military strategist, said. 

“You want to achieve surprise,” Ryan told Insider. “It shocks your adversary and can lead to a level of paralysis which you can exploit.”

There’s no time limit on how long the offensive might last once it begins, though Cancian guessed the coming assault could be sustained for about a month, citing previous Ukrainian and Russian offensives throughout the war that ultimately petered out.

A Ukrainian soldier practices firing his assault rifle.Ukrainian soldiers from the 28th Brigade practice firing their AK-47 assault rifles and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades).

Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images

Where will the fighting take place?

Military experts and analysts are betting the bulk of the offensive will be focused in Ukraine’s southeast, particularly in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Cancian pointed to a specific section of land between the Dnieper River and the occupied territory of the Donbas that hasn’t seen fighting in several months as a possible hub for the assault.

“If the Ukrainians can break through, they might be able to get to the coast,” he said, a probable requirement for an eventual Ukrainian victory.

Reports last week suggested the Ukrainian forces had crossed the river and established positions in the east as preparation for the offensive. But Cancian said such a move would be a gutsy one on which to hinge an assault.

“Once you put troops on the other side of a river, you become dependent on boats and ferries to get reinforcements to them, which can be intercepted,” he said.

Ukraine could also opt to refocus its efforts east of Kharkiv where it staged a successful offensive in the fall, Cancian said. 

What is Ukraine trying to accomplish with this offensive?

The single most important aim for Ukraine’s next push is taking back its territory, the military experts said.

Russia occupies around 17% of Ukraine’s land at the moment, said Ryan, who has been analyzing the war since it began last year. The Ukrainians should focus on winning back as much of that territory as possible, he added.

Along the way, they’ll attempt to destroy Russian forces, particularly in places where the enemy has dug in deep, in hopes of eradicating the possibility of future stalemates.

All the while, Ukraine will have to ensure it leaves enough of its own forces alive and in fighting condition to continue defending the country and stage future defensive and offensive actions in the ongoing war. 

A group of Ukrainian soldiers practice using automatic grenade launchers.Ukrainian soldiers from the 28th Brigade practice using Soviet-made AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers.

Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images

How will Ukraine work to accomplish these goals?

The reality of wartime offensives means there likely won’t be a single push by Ukraine, but instead, several varied military activities all designed to confuse the Russians, Ryan said.

Different units will be focused on performing different tasks throughout different stages of the offensive, he added. This piecemeal approach will allow Ukraine to attack Russia from several different places while sustaining the assault for longer than a single unit could.

The offensive will feature an array of preliminary operations, strike logistics, and troop concentrations, as well as good, old-fashioned combat, the experts said.

“You can’t be successful in these large offensives without engaging in close combat,” Ryan said. “It’s hard, it’s bloody, but well-laid cohesive ground forces can be extraordinarily effective in these.”

Ukraine will also look to utilize its recent influx of Western equipment, including several incoming European and US tanks, which have furthered the growing divide between the quality of Russian and Ukrainian equipment, Ryan said. 

What are the stakes of Ukraine’s next big push?

“Regardless of what happens on the ground, this has to be seen as a success to the Ukrainian people and US and European politicians,” Cancian said. 

If the offensive yields obvious and significant success, Western countries and NATO allies will be more likely to continue providing necessary assistance and aid to Ukraine, the experts said.

“There are many in the US and NATO who are concerned this is going to be a forever war, that it will go on for years and the West will continue to pour money into it without much progress,” Cancian said. 

Ukraine doesn’t necessarily have to drive the Russians out of the country entirely with this offensive, he added, but visible progress will be key to their future war efforts. 

Ukrainian soldiers gather around a tank.Ukrainian armored vehicles maneuver and fire their 30mm guns.

Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images

What are Ukraine’s chances of victory?

Military strategists are often allergic to making bold predictions, but Cancian and Ryan both said they are cautiously optimistic about Ukraine’s plans.

“I think the Ukrainians will do very well,” Ryan said. “They’ve been very good at surprising us in this war.”

Evidence suggests Russia is at least partially ready for whatever is coming. Overhead satellite photos show the country’s forces digging deep trench defenses in the Zaporozhzhia region over the past six months.

“Fourteen months after the start of the war, and they’re still here,” Cancian said of the Russians.

But there’s no question the country suffered significant casualties in Bakhmut that left the Russian military less prepared than it might have been or would likely hope to be ahead of Ukraine’s coming offensive.

Ryan cited a litany of possible outcomes — stunning victory for Ukraine; mere minor advances; or an embarrassing defeat — all of which remain in the abstract ahead of the assault’s actual launch.

“We can’t know until the Ukrainians start the fight just how well prepared the Russians are,” he said, “or indeed, how well the Ukrainians are.”

Read the original article on Business Insider