Ukraine’s army could be on the verge of splitting Putin’s army in two, according to a former British General.
Over the last week, Ukraine appears to have stepped up its counteroffensive against Russian positions in the south.
The Russian defence ministry’s chief spokesperson, Igor Konashenkov, said on Wednesday Ukraine had launched a “massive” attack south of the settlement of Orikhiv and that fierce battles were raging.
His claim that Russia’s army had successfully repelled the Ukrainians appeared to be contradicted by a prominent pro-Kremlin military blogger.
In a post on his Telegram channel, Rybar described an “attack by more than 80 armoured vehicles, including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and combat vehicles”.
He also claimed that Ukrainian troops had managed to penetrate Russian lines in three places.
The major objectives for Kyiv in this new phase of the counteroffensive are the heavily fortified city of Tokmak, and beyond, Melitopol, near the coast.
Melitopol dominates the “land bridge” linking Russia to Crimea, and Berdyansk, a port on the Sea of Azov.
Its liberation would cut Russian forces on the southern front in two, and isolate occupied Crimea – delivering a major blow to Putin and his generals.
Retired British General Richard Dannatt argued that Ukraine’s counteroffensive was now gaining real momentum, raising the possibility of decisive moves on the battlefield.
Ukraine’s attacks in the east around Bakhmut and in the south towards Tokmak were creating uncertainty among Russia’s high command over where to commit its limited reserves, he explained.
The new momentum may soon create “the circumstances for a break-out beyond the defensive zone and into more open country”, which could be exploited by Ukraine’s Tenth Corps.
Ukraine’s second echelon force contains most of its Western-provided armour, as well as fresh and well-trained troops.
“It is then that the Western equipment and thinking would begin to pay dividends,” Lord Dannatt wrote in a column for the Daily Telegraph.
“The Russian army does not need to be defeated in detail but the typical Russian soldier must be made to feel the fear of being bypassed, with his enemy behind him, and for his commanders to realise that they have been outmanoeuvred. Death, withdrawal or surrender.”
He added: “A successful strike on the axis Tokmak to Melitopol could split the Russian forces, presenting the possibility of those in the Kherson region being cut off and surrounded.
“Moreover, the land corridor to Crimea would be vulnerable to interdiction and the prospect of the Russian garrison there being isolated.”
Ukraine’s army has struggled to make significant territorial gains since it launched its counteroffensive in June.
The Russians have succeeded in building heavily-fortified defensive positions, which are 30km (18 miles) deep in places.
They have also laid extensive minefields, which have caused havoc among advancing Ukrainian units.
However, if Kyiv’s army can get in behind the Russian lines, then their resistance is expected to crumble quickly.
Glen Grant, a former British Lieutenant Colonel, told the Express.co.uk that the Russians did not like being put into “uncertain” situations.
“Russians are very high on uncertainty avoidance,” he explained. “Which means when things are uncertain they really, really struggle. They can’t deal with it.
“When things are certain they can deal with it. So certainty is facing an enemy – uncertainty is when the enemy gets behind you. At the moment they are in a strength position culturally, which is facing and fighting.
“How do we create uncertainty – by them not having any artillery to support them, by food running out, by anything you can do to mess the logistics – this creates uncertainty.”