The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that US and Ukrainian officials have clashed over the strategy for Ukraine’s counteroffensive during behind-the-scenes conversations in recent weeks.
The US has been pushing Ukraine to use “combined arms” tactics that Ukrainian forces learned from NATO during training in Europe ahead of the counteroffensive. The US also wants Ukraine to concentrate its forces to make a big push toward the Sea of Azov to sever Russia’s land bridge to Crimea.
“You don’t understand the nature of this conflict,” Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Gen. Valery Zaluzhny told his American counterparts in a recent conversation, according to an anonymous US official speaking to the Journal. “This is not counterinsurgency. This is Kursk,” Zaluzhny said, referring to a major battle between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II.
Combined arms tactics are meant to integrate Ukraine’s armored vehicles, artillery, and infantry. US officials have said Ukraine is relying too much on artillery and not pushing hard enough against Russian defenses, which include vast minefields. The New York Times recently reported that the US “fears” Ukraine has become “casualty averse,” demonstrating Washington’s lack of concern for Ukrainian lives.
Ukraine’s main argument against using the combined arms tactics is the fact that NATO would never try to launch such an offensive without air superiority. Ukraine also did launch a big push using armored vehicles when it first started its counteroffensive, but it resulted in heavy losses. According to the Times, Ukraine lost 20% of all weaponry it deployed in the first two weeks of its counteroffensive.
US officials told the Journal that there’s still time for Ukraine to regain significant territory in its counteroffensive, and Zaluzhny has said his forces are on the cusp of a breakthrough. But The Washington Post reported last week that the US intelligence community has determined that Ukraine’s counteroffensive will not reach the southern city of Melitipol, thus failing its objective to sever the land bridge.
While US officials are blaming the faltering counteroffensive on Ukraine’s tactics, it was clear that the US did not think Ukraine could regain much territory based on the Discord leaks and media reports leading up to the assault. The Wall Street Journal also recently reported that Western officials did not think Ukraine had enough training or equipment to dislodge Russian forces but hoped they would be able to break through anyway.