It seems that the much-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive has started. Since yesterday several waves of Ukrainian units have attacked the Russian positions south and southwest of Orikhiv. The fighting has been very hard but the Ukrainian forces have made only minor gains and according to my sources there seems to have been heavy casualties on both sides, but especially on the Ukrainian side. The Russian MoD will probably claim several thousand killed Ukrainians and 50-100 destroyed Ukrainian combat vehicles later today.
After several unsuccessful assaults yesterday with limited artillery support the UkrAF spent a couple of hours undertaking a long artillery barrage on the Russian forward positions before resuming attacks during the night but to no avail. For the time being no attacks are ongoing, but large Ukrainian formations are in position for resumed attacks. The attacks will probably resume in a couple of hours.
I believe the Ukrainian side is disappointed with the lack of progress. They must break through not only the first Russian defence line but a large number of defence lines behind the first one. To achieve success the Ukrainian side cannot spend many days with huge losses to break through each defence line.
The coming three or four days might be some of the most important days in 2023 when it comes to the war. If UkrAF doesn’t succeed in breaking through the Russian defences and suffer massive casualties during the attempts, the summer offensive will be short lived and a failure. If on the other side Ukrainian forces do break through they have to take on the next defence line and it is starting over again. The only way Ukraine can achieve a significant success is if the Russian forces collapse under pressure from the attacks and panic spreads. This seems unlikely at present.
Ukraine must gain a significant success during the offensive to make it worth the costs. A failure will change the perception of the RuAF both in the West but also in the rest of the world. The likelihood of a Ukrainian military victory will disappear. Pressure both within the western countries, but also from the west towards Ukraine, will increase pressure for negotiations to solve the conflict. On the other hand, a victorious Russia might want to go for a military victory instead of negotiations and use a Ukrainian defeat for an major offensive.
The most likely outcome is a Ukrainian defeat. They have no element of surprise or numerical superiority and face an enemy with superiority in artillery and air power who awaits them in well prepared fortifications. It looks a lot like the battle of Kursk in 1943. When the Third Reich threw all their reserves in an offensive against well prepared Soviet defences and used up all of their carefully gathered reserves during a couple of weeks, without any major success. Coming to think of it, similar tactics were used by Russian forces in Artyomovsk-Bakhmut.