The topic of a counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops has been actively discussed for several months. Military and political experts announced it for August, but suddenly, the plans have changed. After Ukraine began to destroy the bridges and invaders’ ammunition depots, russia began to actively accumulate troops in the south of the country. Now experts are not talking about the counteroffensive of Ukraine, but about the impending offensive of the russian federation.
Russian troops also continue to advance in the Donetsk direction, where, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky, "a hell that cannot be described in words" is happening. Recently, the russians have switched to nuclear threats, shelling the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
OstroV interviewed military expert, colonel of the reserve and ex-officer of the Main Operations Directorate of the AFU General Staff (2003-2006) Oleh Zhdanov about why Ukraine's counteroffensive is being postponed, whether putin will decide on a "new Chornobyl" and where to expect a new massive russian offensive.
- Can we state that the conditional operational pause at the front is over and now a new stage of the war is already underway?
- We can say that the operational pause is over, but a new stage of the war has not yet begun. After an operational pause, we returned to the second stage of the defensive operation in this war.
- Why did it happen?
- Most likely, russia decided to conduct a new offensive operation, so we were forced to return to the defensive.
- Do you mean the russian offensive in the Donetsk direction?
- That is exactly what russia is trying to achieve. I think that they want us to believe that a massive offensive is underway in the Donetsk direction, so that we transfer our main reserves and forces there. And as soon as it happens, they will begin an offensive in a southern direction.
- How do you assess the success of the russians in this context?
- They haven't had any success yet. In two weeks of stubborn fighting, they advanced one kilometer near Avdiivka and several hundred meters in the Marinka area, they took over the farm. These are not successes. We continue to break russia's plans by not deploying troops there and not concentrating our main efforts on the Donetsk direction.
- Russian propaganda claims that they achieved some progress in the Donetsk oblast. They even claim taking over Pisky...
- They definitely did not invade Pisky (as of August 8, - ed.). This is even confirmed by the American Institute for the Study of War. In this case, russian propaganda got ahead of itself. But I would not say that there’s a success even in the areas where they have really advanced. Remember how they attacked the Luhansk oblast. They advanced 40-50 km within three months while losing 7-9 thousand people. However, this is our victory. Yes, we have lost part of the territory, but we weakened the enemy. After all, the return of territory with a weakened enemy is much easier than its capture. And now we are just conducting military operations to wear down the enemy.
They are trying to divert our attention to the Donetsk direction. But for now, the General Staff of Ukraine, as I understand it, is taking a wait-and-see attitude. We have slightly corrected the situation in the Donetsk direction and are waiting for the main offensive of the russian troops to begin. Most likely, it will be in the south, because the enemy gathered the largest grouping there.
- That is, a new massive offensive of the russians is expected in the near future?
- Sure. There may be two options. We do not yet know exactly what the enemy, located in the southern direction, will do. Either the right-bank grouping will begin to move towards Nikopol, Kryvyi Rih or Mykolaiv, or the troops stationed near Melitopol will begin to cross over to the right bank. Or they can go to the Zaporizhzhia direction, and in the south, the russians will begin the defensive.
- Are they able to attack on several fronts at the same time?
- This is the intention of the russian "game". They will go on the offensive simultaneously in several directions: Kharkiv, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Pivdennyi Buh. We assume that either the Pivdennyi Buh or the Zaporizhzhia direction can become the main target.
- Have they accumulated that much power?
- It’s not the main thing. The fact is that in russia, the war is commanded not by the military, but by politicians. Putin is the main directing and driving force of the military. Just the other day, he once again changed his top generals. This suggests that in the near future, there will also be a big shift at the front. A new broom sweeps clean. Now the new commander will try his best to show his agility. And what is the best way to do this? Only with new offensive actions.
- How do you assess such a plan from a military point of view? Is it interesting?
- It's not an interesting idea. From a military point of view, this plan is a suicide. Without an operational reserve and the ability to increase efforts, launching an offensive is literally a suicide. They are given political tasks that they are trying to fulfill with a minimum number of troops, which is not realistic.
- Is Ukraine ready for a new offensive by the russian troops?
- Yes, we are ready. Our Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi said that nowadays we are able to conduct a defensive operation.
- Is the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant a russian attempt to prevent a counteroffensive, divert our attention, or is it something else entirely?
- This is an attempt to divert the attention of the West. The main problem of the russian federation is not the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but the supply of Western weapons. They want to dehumanize the AFU as much as possible and show the West that we are waging war with inhuman methods, that we are threatening Europe's security and, allegedly, shelling the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. According to their plan, the West should get terrified and stop supplying weapons to Ukraine. That is the purpose of such provocative actions.
- Does russia succeed?
- No. Fortunately, Western intelligence understands the situation; most Western politicians also understand the situation around our war. In addition, russia does it all so clumsily and with such fails that it does not actually require any evidence base.
- Are the russians able to create the "new Chornobyl"?
- Of course not. I believe that today, the probability of using nuclear weapons on the territory of Ukraine is approximately equal to zero.
- Our territories are adjacent. With the explosion on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the radioactive cloud could go to Crimea - the pearl that russia cherishes so much. And the region will then turn into a nuclear dump. In addition, the kremlin is well aware that the West will simply tear the russian federation into pieces, if they create a nuclear dump in the center of Europe. And if the cloud goes to moscow, what will they do then? Wave their fans so that it does not go there? Nobody can control the weather today. Remember the fact that the Chornobyl radioactive cloud went to the Netherlands.
- It seems to me that putin no longer cares about his people.
- I don't think that putin, who still thinks about the future and makes some plans, doesn't care. He wants to live. He wants to create and run the empire. In addition, his associates are not ready to die either.
Of course, putin cannot just renounce the use of nuclear weapons. They have it written in the military doctrine. But now they are just manipulating and speculating on public opinion. How will he be friends with Europe, if he creates a radioactive contamination? In addition, the plant is situated in close proximity to the russian borders.
- Yes, and friendship with China will not work out after this either.
- By the way, China, for all its threat to the United States, is initiating the signing of a new security treaty on the no first use of nuclear weapons. Russia does not fit in with its nuclear bomb.
- Is it possible to accidentally damage the reactor of the Zaporizhzhia NPP?
- No, the reactor has a huge number of protective systems. The purpose of the Chornobyl experiment was precisely to find out the critical state of the reactor. If you consider it cynically, the purpose of the experiment was fulfilled, and the reactor was brought to an explosion.
The russians brought their administration to the plant, thus trying to integrate it into Rosatom. When they are shelling Nikopol, the employees leave the station. The russians have enough brain cells for this. After all, if you shoot on the territory of the station, the seismic sensors will detect it and the reactor will be stopped. This is such a precautionary measure.
- Let's get back to the situation at the front. Is Ukraine's counteroffensive really being delayed?
- Yes, it is being postponed due to the fact that the enemy changed his plans and was able to prepare a semblance of an offensive operation. But I won't say that we are postponing it for long. Nowadays we continue to strike the enemy in the nearest depth. Accordingly, this is a weakening of its front line and a possible preparation for our future offensive actions.
- Why did we announce the counteroffensive so actively, indicating specific directions, and so on? Isn't silence important in such a case?
- This is an information front, information warfare. See how the enemy tensed up and scraped up some small army. They have no more troops. With the help of our information messages, we actually imposed an offensive operation attempt on the enemy. We forced the russians to move troops from north to south, collect the last reserves and prepare for a new offensive.
- Is it good for us?
- Of course. If we wait idly, the russian troops will continuously strike us, which would be hard to endure for a long time. But they gathered an army, we saw and assessed it, and now we can make predictions about where and how they will attack. But at the same time, we are systematically trying to reduce their combat capability by inflicting fire damage.
- And how long can such a "game" last?
- It can last up to ten days. If they do not start their offensive operation this week, then by the end of the week, we can damage their resources to a state of inability to launch any offensive. They are still able to attack today, but in a week, they probably will not be able to.
- What are your predictions regarding the counteroffensive? Where and when is it possible, given today's situation?
- I think that the main efforts will be in the southern direction. We have the greatest success there, and it makes sense to continue the good work there. The only question is how the enemy will regroup and how the russians will behave in the near future. It must be taken into account that we are not the only ones playing this game.
- That is, the russians have become a little unpredictable?
- There is always a possibility. No one ever talks about 100% plans and intentions. Actions are not always logical and motivated as well. We are waiting for the enemy’s move now. We provoked them, they conducted a global grouping of troops, gathered a reserve, and now we are looking at where and how they will use it. The russian federation is now provoking us for an offensive operation in the Donbas. We don't give in.
- Are we doing it right?
- Yes, I think that's a right decision.
- Is it possible to liberate Kherson in the foreseeable future?
- It is absolutely possible. We are gradually moving towards this, despite the accumulation of russian forces on the right bank. The destruction of bridges, air defense systems and ammunition depots of the enemy are all preparatory operations for the counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. And if the russians do not launch an offensive in the Pivdennyi Buh direction within a week, we will weaken their combat potential to the point that they will have to flee from there.
- Russian propagandists unanimously declare that they will not leave Kherson and will fight for it to the end. Are they theoretically capable of this?
- When did they actually keep their promises? They do not have the means for this. They also wanted to seize Kyiv, but as a result, they realized that they did not have the strength to do it.
- Will holding "referendums" complicate the counteroffensive?
- We should not care about that, no country will recognize them anyway. In order to hold a referendum, a truce is needed. Even in Russia, it will be impossible to legitimize a referendum, if it is held during active hostilities.
- Some analysts talk about russia’s plans to seize Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih. Is it possible?
- I think that this is unrealistic to implement with the number of forces that the russians have accumulated there. After all, we also have forces there, an equipped defense line, we have increased our reserves. A more massive grouping of troops is needed in order to develop an offensive. These 20-30 thousand russians per one direction do not make a difference. If they brought at least 70-80 thousand soldiers there, then we could say that russia has gathered a large army, and we have a very difficult battle ahead.
Interviewed by Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV