Ukraine planning 'big bang' offensive to crush Putin's troops and retake major region

Ukraine is preparing for a “big bang-style” counter offensive that could involve an advance hundreds of miles into Russian occupied territory, according to military analysts. Former US General Ben Hodges, retired British Army Brigadier Ben Barry, and ex-Brit Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon spoke to The Sun Online about how the imminent assault could materialise. It comes as Ukraine continues to receive scores of Western main battle tanks, armoured vehicles and new artillery systems.

Ukraine is known to be forming a network of new “Storm Brigades”, including between 12 and 18 battalions, each made up of several thousand soldiers. The total number of Ukrainians expected to take part in this assault is believed to be around 40,000.

Named Hurricane, Spartan, Chervona Kalyna, Frontier, Rage, Azov and Kara Dag (a mountain in Crimea), Ukraine’s new units, fresh off Western training, are preparing to play their role in a decisive new offensive to repel the Russian forces after more than 14 months of brutal fighting.

General Hodges, a former commander of the US Army Europe, said he believed the “key is winning Crimea”, the peninsula annexed by Vladimir Putin in 2014 following pro-Western rallies in Kyiv.

“Once Crimea is liberated, it’s all over, it changes everything,” he said. “Ukraine knows that it will never be safe without taking back Crimea.”

To achieve this ultimate aim, Gen. Hodges said Ukraine would aim to “break the land bridge using precision weapons to hit targets”, likely advancing on the city of Melitopol, located near the northern shores of the Sea of Azov.

Military analysts told earlier this year that they also expected Ukraine to advance towards the Sea of Azov, using Western main battle tanks to punch their way through the Russian fortification.

He said he believes the attack will involve hitting Russia’s air bases, ambitious attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and targeting logistics and command centres deep into enemy-held territory in Crimea.

“I think Ukraine will pick one or two places to focus their attack on a narrow front a few miles wide and penetrate through the fortified frontlines using tanks, mechanised infantry, engineers and artillery,” he said.

“They will use their air force to help cover them and there will be activity in the Russian rear area by special forces and partisans to stop them reacting [to the attack].”

Regarding when the plan would be carried out, he said the counter offensives would take place in the summer, as opposed to the anticipated spring, because the Ukrainians are “busy training”.

Current terrain conditions – the winter ground has thawed, leaving muddy, often impassable dirt tracks – also makes a delayed advance more likely.

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Colonel de Bretton-Gordon said the counter offensives could mirror the Desert Storm ground offensive, which lasted just 100 hours and saw an army led by American and British forces advance hundreds of miles against Sadam Hussein’s forces in Iraq in the early 1990s to secure a surrender.

Col. De Bretton-Gordon said: “Over four days [in Desert Storm] we covered a couple of hundred miles. The Ukrainians will probably want to go a bit further but not much further.”

He said the key to Ukrainian victory was making sure they had the logistics to support an advance far enough into Russian-occupied territory to cause maximum devastation; once behind enemy lines, so to speak, the ability to disrupt Putin’s efforts across southern and eastern Ukraine would be monumental.

Confidently, he added: “Now they have tanks and artillery for the close fight, I’m pretty confident they’ll be able to [succeed].”

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Brigadier Barry, a senior fellow for land warfare at International Institute for Strategic Studies, said he believed a “big bang” assault was the most likely, rather than an assault that “dribbled” slowly.

He said that “Ukraine could kill every Russian soldier within 200 miles of Bakhmut and it wouldn’t change the strategic situation,” corroborating the claim that they need to advance deep into Russian territory for maximum effect.

But Russian and Eastern Europe security expert Samantha de Bendern said she expected the counter offensives not to focus on Crimea but rather to materialise as a “concentrated assault” in Donbas, the two eastern regions of Ukraine.

She added that “there is pressure from the Americans not to attack the Crimean peninsula”. Given Western support is vital to Ukrainian success, a withdrawal or dilution of backing could undermine their efforts.

Whatever the plan behind the offensive, though, de Bendern said: “One thing is absolutely sure – Ukraine will never give up. They will fight to the last man.”