It’s fair to say Ukraine’s counteroffensive is moving slower than anticipated — but for good reason. We’ve all heard the saying, “Slow and steady wins the race.” In this case, Ukraine’s strategy is just that — a slow, steady, and deliberate race to the Sea of Azov, where Ukrainians can divide Russia’s army and pummel the remnants into surrendering territory that has been occupied for months.
In the end, I’m confident this strategy will prove successful against a weakened and demoralized Russian force that is under extraordinary stress.
For those who are disheartened by the slow pace of the Ukrainian offensive so far, it’s pertinent to remember historical examples.
Immediately after the D-Day landings during World War II, one of the most spectacularly successful military campaigns in history, Allied forces fought desperately to crack entrenched German positions. They advanced only a few miles from their beachheads in several weeks of hard fighting before finally breaking through and advancing rapidly.
The Ukrainians’ counteroffensive is also facing extraordinary headwinds, but their hard and bloody fighting today is likely setting the conditions for similar breakthroughs in the future.
On paper, the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive seems destined to fail. The Ukrainians face a deeply entrenched Russian army that has had months to prepare fortified positions along every conceivable axis of advance. The depth of these complex defensive positions extends for several miles with multiple reinforcing belts and are seeded with hundreds of thousands of mines.
The Russians also have massive stockpiles of shells on hand to pummel Ukrainians as they attempt to breach those defensive lines.
Additionally, even after Ukraine clears lanes through dense minefields, the Russians are capable of reseeding those openings with munitions delivered by artillery and drones.
However, Ukraine is not fighting on paper, and it possesses a number of advantages over the Russians.
First, the Russian army is not a healthy organization, and unhealthy armies tend to fracture and disintegrate in the face of sustained pressure. The Wagner Group rebellion led by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in June was simply the tip of the iceberg. Dissatisfaction is endemic throughout the entire Russian army, in which troops at every level know this war is being badly led, badly managed, and badly resourced.
As a result, morale among Russian soldiers is at rock bottom. Poorly trained and led troops risking their lives for reasons they don’t entirely understand are ripe for being routed.
These miserable conscripts are also joined by tens of thousands of convicts who have been hauled out of prison to serve on the frontlines as expendable cannon fodder in which their focus is on personal survival rather than any sense of duty.
Needless to say, none of these conditions helps bolster overall unit cohesion or a will to fight.
On the other hand, Ukraine’s will to fight is strong and deeply felt by troops who are fighting to expel invaders from their home and protect the lives of their loved ones. The Ukrainians fight with a ferocity and determination that is borne out of a shared sense of purpose.
That fighting spirit manifests itself daily as Ukrainian forces deliberately and painstakingly advance against Russian positions despite the extraordinary obstacles they face.
Another advantage is that while the Ukrainians are achieving success on the front lines, albeit in slow and incremental ways, they are steadily degrading supply depots, logistics commands, and major headquarters throughout the depth of Russian defenses thanks to excellent intelligence and precision weaponry.
Over time, these strikes on high-value targets are likely to achieve the type of cumulative effects that create gaps and pockets of weakness the Ukrainians can exploit with rapid advances.
Finally, while Russia continues to bleed combat power over time with diminishing means for replacing essential equipment, Ukrainian forces are benefiting from a steady flow of material support extended by dozens of nations — through federally funded aid and nonprofit organizations.
I work for Spirit of America, a U.S. nonprofit that is helping provide Ukraine with the support it needs to win. I’ve seen firsthand how this assistance has changed the trajectory of the war. Every piece of additional support bolsters Ukraine’s forces and increases their chances of shortening this war and limiting Ukrainian casualties.
Our friends in Ukraine may not seize all their territory back by the end of this year, or even well into next year, but there is no denying that the Ukrainians are making progress on the battlefield and that they outclass the Russian army in every intangible category essential for eventual victory.
Instead of wringing our hands over the pace of their counteroffensive, Ukraine’s friends and partners should bear down on providing as much consistent support as possible for as long as it takes for Ukrainians to win.
Retired Army Col. Matt Dimmick is a former National Security Council director for Russia and is currently Spirit of America’s Europe regional program manager working to provide training and supplies to frontline Ukrainian soldiers.