U.S. Officials See Signs of a Counteroffensive in Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — To mount a successful counteroffensive after months of planning, Ukrainian troops will have to navigate mostly flat, unforgiving terrain and staunch Russian defenses.

Military analysts and Western officials have long thought that a counteroffensive would focus on southern Ukraine as part of a strategy by Kyiv to sever the land bridge between western Russia and occupied Crimea. The operation is expected to involve thousands of Ukrainian troops — including many trained by NATO forces and equipped with newer and more advanced Western equipment, like armored personnel carriers and tanks.

But no matter where Ukraine attacks along a front line that stretches for hundreds of miles, Russia’s defenses will be formidable. Moscow’s forces have had months to dig in, lay minefields and prepare entrenchments. Russian formations also have gotten increasingly adept at using drones to help pinpoint targets for artillery strikes. That has made it more challenging for Ukrainian forces, often under withering fire, to coordinate troop movements, tanks and artillery support effectively enough to achieve a breakthrough.

This type of battlefield coordination, known in military circles as “combined arms,” has been difficult for Ukrainian forces since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year. Ukrainian troops on the front lines often use different radio systems, which makes it harder for units to communicate. One reason a limited operation in Ukraine’s south stalled earlier this year was that ground troops could not talk to soldiers in accompanying tanks, said one soldier who was involved. Ukraine’s forces were unable to advance, and one service member was wounded by a friendly mine, said the soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the operation.

But during successful Ukrainian offensives last year, such as around the northeastern region of Kharkiv in September and in the port city of Kherson in the fall, Kyiv’s military leaders have shown that they are capable of making quick decisions on the battlefield to take advantage of Russian vulnerabilities. During the battle around Kharkiv in September, for example, Ukrainian troops breached lightly defended Russian lines, advancing rapidly and seizing the upper hand in the region.

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