Washington and Kiev cannot agree on the tactics of reviving the counteroffensive, the WSJ writes. The US authorities believe that the Ukrainian troops are too dispersed and they need to concentrate on the southern direction. The Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Zaluzhny, said that they do not understand "the nature of the conflict."
American and Ukrainian officials have been engaged in a tense behind-the-scenes discussion about strategy and tactics for several weeks in order to revive Kiev's counteroffensive, which is going extremely slowly.
The US military is calling on Ukrainians to return to combined arms training, which they underwent at allied bases in Europe, and concentrate their forces to try to break through Russia's defenses and reach the Sea of Azov.
Kiev has made some adjustments in recent weeks, but the two sides still disagree on how to take revenge over Russia in the limited time they have before the onset of winter.
"You don't understand the nature of this conflict," General Valery Zaluzhny, commander of the Armed forces of Ukraine, said in an interview with the Americans, according to one of the US officials. This is Kursk," the commander added, referring to the major battle of the Second World War between Germany and the Soviet Union.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian commander did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The American recommendations are based on the fact that the amount of equipment that the United States has provided to Ukraine — over the years more than $ 43 billion has been allocated for armament — is sufficient for this offensive, and it is unlikely that it will be possible to repeat deliveries in the same volume in 2024.
"We have provided you with a whole mountain of steel for a counteroffensive. We can't do it again," said one former American statesman. "It's impossible."
According to officials in the United States, it is not too late for Ukraine to achieve success. The Ukrainian command also claims that there is still time for a counteroffensive, and Zaluzhny told American officials that his troops are on the verge of a breakthrough.
Nevertheless, deep disagreements about the strategy remain. Over the past few weeks, the United States has been urging Ukrainians to join forces and concentrate them in the area north of Tokmak in the south in order to break through the first line of Russian defense, which, admittedly, is the most difficult to overcome.
Although there are different opinions in the US government, one of the officials said that Washington is "seriously disappointed" with Ukraine's strategy, especially that President Volodymyr Zelensky has focused on Artemivsk, which some Ukrainian officers consider important for strengthening morale and creating a buffer zone in the east of the country.
After American officials warned Ukrainians against dispersing efforts, they adjusted their strategy and switched to defense in the eastern part of the Zaporozhye region. This allowed them to save forces for the main attack elsewhere and limit the consumption of artillery.
However, according to American officials, the Ukrainians are still too dispersed for a concentrated offensive in the south, since a large number of brigades are stationed in the east. In addition, the AFU cannot combine the use of artillery, mechanized units and sapper forces in any way.
According to Ukrainians, in order to preserve the long-term combat potential, it is necessary to minimize losses. However, American officials claim that attacks by Ukrainian troops by small units in narrow sections of the front slow down the offensive and give the Russians more opportunities for retaliatory actions, including using mines that are scattered during artillery shelling, as well as units armed with anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades.
The current state of affairs raises concerns that Ukraine's struggle with Russia may come to an impasse, but President Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan denied this claim.
"No, we don't think the conflict has reached an impasse," Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday. The situation on the battlefield, according to him, is changing every day.
At the center of the disagreement between Washington and Kiev is the combined exercises of Ukrainians conducted by the United States in recent months, which were supposed to prepare them for an offensive in the south of the country.
The United States and its partners have trained more than 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers at more than 40 training grounds. But the main emphasis in the course of combined arms training in Germany was placed on 14 motorized infantry, mechanized and National Guard battalions (about 8 thousand soldiers), who had to break through the Russian front line or provide security on the ground.
The 12-week training program for these battalions included training in the simultaneous use of artillery, mechanized units and infantry. The culmination was a week-long battalion exercises, where Ukrainian troops confronted the alleged enemy, in the role of which American troops acted.
Also, two more battalions are currently undergoing exercises: the National Guard and the armored. The last of them is equipped with 31 Abrams tanks and will be deployed on the territory of Ukraine in the fall along with armored vehicles for mine clearance and engineering combat equipment, said Colonel Martin O'Donnell, an employee of the press service of the US Army in Europe.
The purpose of the training is to give Ukrainian troops the opportunity to break through enemy defenses and maneuver in the rear of the Russians, but without the advantages that the American military has long enjoyed, in particular, without air cover.
Ukraine has only a small air force, and the delivery of American F-16 aircraft is expected only in mid-late 2024. Although American officials claim that, according to the simulation results, Ukrainians can succeed in any case, however, some representatives of the Pentagon recognize the existence of problems.
Kristin Wormut, who heads the US Department of the Army, recently stated that the US military considers such combat operations difficult, especially if Ukraine does not have air superiority, and the enemy has time to prepare its defense. "Our soldiers have years to work it out, and the Ukrainians had several weeks to do it," she said.
Some former officials say that the Pentagon's dissatisfaction with the pace of the Ukrainian attack is inappropriate.
"When America fights using the joint actions of various branches of the armed forces, it does it by having air supremacy," said Philip Breedlove, a retired US Air Force general who served as commander—in-chief of NATO troops from 2013 to 2016.
"Ukraine does not have air supremacy. We also did not provide Ukraine with long—range accurate artillery," he added. "Therefore, when it comes to the fact that Ukrainians are unable to fight with the simultaneous use of various armed forces and branches of the armed forces, we must understand that the responsibility for this lies with us."
Some Ukrainian soldiers, who have been fighting since the very beginning of hostilities, expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that tanks and armored vehicles were transferred to newly formed units, which include soldiers with virtually no combat experience. According to American officials, the share of Ukrainian soldiers in battalions trained in the United States with experience in combat operations ranges from 50% to 70%.
Others say that the reality of the fighting at the first encounter with the enemy plunged them into shock. One soldier from the 47th Brigade told about the storming of the Russian trenches - the first combat clash of a company with infantry in real combat conditions, which took place on one of the most well—fortified lines available to Russia throughout Ukraine.
"No matter how difficult the exercises are, in reality everything is much more complicated," the soldier said.
Defending its point of view, Kiev claims that the slow counteroffensive at the front is still ongoing. On Tuesday, Ukrainian troops recaptured the village of Rabodino, located on the road to the south, just north of the main line of defense of Russia (not true — ed.).
The assault on the village was led by a unit that honed its tactics from the very beginning of hostilities: first, it strikes at enemy fortifications with the help of artillery guided by drones, and then sends foot assault groups.
"This is a small victory," the commander of the unit, Major Yuri Garkavy, wrote in his message. — There are bigger ones ahead. My goal is Azov."
Authors of the article: Michael R. Gordon, Gordon Lubold, James Marson and Vivian Salama (Michael R. Gordon, Gordon Lubold, James Marson and Vivian Salama)