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Ukraine shows signs of preparing for a big counteroffensive

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Kyiv, Aug 20: Ben Hodges, a former general in the US army and commander-in-chief of US forces in Europe, told DW that there are signs that Russia's army is weakening following explosions at Russia's airfield on the Crimean Peninsula and Ukrainian artillery hits on dozens of ammunition depots and commando units in Russian-occupied areas.

"This shows that they are vulnerable," Hodges said. "It also shows that their logistical system is depleted. The Russians don't even have enough people or capability to protect their operational logistics."

Ukraine shows signs of preparing for a big counteroffensive

Hodges compared the situation to the months of fighting between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Red Army in southern Ukraine in 1943 during World War II. "The German Wehrmacht had to deploy hundreds of thousands of soldiers just to protect the rail lines in Ukraine and Belarus," Hodges said.

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'Vulnerable logistical system'

The geographical dimensions of Ukraine posed similar problems for the German military in World War II as they do for Russia today when it comes to securing supplies. Russia is now extremely vulnerable, Hodges said.

Every successful hit on an ammunition depot or command post, he said, causes the Russian army to pull back its supply points further and further, which makes repairs and restocking ammunition increasingly difficult.

Ukraine shows signs of preparing for a big counteroffensive

"They can't replace things," Hodges said. "There are so many pieces that need lubricant and maintenance just like any other construction vehicle. Those parts have to come from somewhere. These are all a burden on a very fragile, vulnerable logistical system."

For months, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been announcing a counteroffensive in southern Ukraine.

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So are the missile attacks on the railroad logistics, command and communication facilities held by the Russian army in the occupied territories preparations for that? In mid-August, Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko wrote on Twitter: "Don't be where your opponent is waiting for you. Be where your opponent is not waiting for you. Be mobile."

German weapons deliveries

Ukraine is creating the conditions for a counterattack, said Nico Lange, a security expert and adviser to Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in the previous German government, under Chancellor Angela Merkel, of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU). Lange also headed the Kyiv office of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation for six years.

Ukraine shows signs of preparing for a big counteroffensive

But Ukraine does not have "enough armored vehicles and not enough battle tanks to really retake territory decisively in this vast terrain of the southern Ukrainian steppe with a major counterattack," Lange said.

Lange is particularly critical of Germany's reluctance to provide heavy weapons to Ukraine. "Time has been lost and, of course, you need a lead time for logistics and for training for the delivery of armored vehicles, for example," Lange said. "Now that Ukraine would have opportunities, just not enough of this assistance has arrived. That's very unfortunate."

"In Germany, it was often said in recent months that the Ukrainians could not quickly learn to handle Western weapon systems," Lange said. "But, with the American HIMARS, they have proven that they can learn very quickly. Now they would need more armored troop vehicles."

Ukraine shows signs of preparing for a big counteroffensive

Hodges said Ukraine's army could be playing for time. "They are resisting the urge to push," he said. "They're building up a force until it's ready, until it's trained, until they have enough power."

For a counteroffensive to be successful, Hodges said, Ukraine would need more support from its international allies.

"I am disappointed that Germany has not provided more," Hodges said. "To be a leader, respected by everybody for its moral authority, as well as its economic power, Germany has to be seen as helping Ukraine defeat Russia," he added.

"If Ukraine does not defeat Russia, or it drags on forever, or if Ukraine defeats Russia without real German help, then nobody will respect Germany," Hodges said. "Russia will not respect Germany. Other European countries will not respect Germany. "

No nuclear threat

Hodges is in alignment with other military officials, politicians and analysts who are calling on the US administration and its allies to deliver smarter weapons systems, such as the short-range ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) missile with a range of 300 kilometers (180 miles). This missile can also be launched by the US HIMARS artillery pieces, with which Ukraine achieved many of its recent successes against Russian forces.

Ukraine shows signs of preparing for a big counteroffensive

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan has been reluctant to supply such weapons systems for fear of escalation.

But, Hodges said, Russia's only option for escalation is to use a nuclear weapon, and he considers that extremely unlikely. He said there were no Ukrainian targets for Russian nuclear missiles that "would change the battlefield favorably for them." And the use of even a tactical nuclear missile of lesser destructive power in Ukraine would immediately result in the US and UK entering the war, Hodges said. "I don't believe that Putin is crazy," he said. "He's evil, but he's not crazy or suicidal."

Hodges said the war would likely be decided through conventional combat.

And he is cautiously optimistic. If Ukraine's allies follow through with their support, Hodges said, the Russian forces can be pushed back by the end of 2022 to where they were before the invasion on February 24. Then, he said, there may be a year or two of negotiations for Crimea and Donbas.

But this hinges on deliveries of modern equipment and the training of soldiers, which Russian officials hope Ukraine's allies will not follow through on.

"The Kremlin is counting on the US losing interest because of inflation and its own domestic challenges and midterm elections," Hodges said. "The UK is still looking for a prime minister," he added. "Germany is so concerned about the impact of the reduction of gas and the Rhine River being so shallow right now, all these kinds of things. The Russians are thinking that they can wait us out. That's the key. If they're right, then this war goes on for years."

Source: DW

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