Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive appears imminent – and the way each side is preparing speaks volumes about their readiness.
Kyiv’s front lines are abuzz with vehicle movement and artillery strikes, with regular explosions hitting vital Russian targets in occupied areas.
It may have already started; it may be weeks away. We don’t know – and that fact is a strong measure of Ukraine’s success as this begins.
Moscow, on the other hand, is in the closing-time bar brawl stage of their war. After losing Kharkiv and Kherson, they have had at least seven months to ready the next likely target of Ukrainian attack: Zaporizhzhia.
That has happened, with vast trench defense networks that can be seen from space. That recognition of their enormity is not necessarily a compliment in 2023. They are big, yes, but they are also something anyone can peruse on Google. That’s not great in an era of precise rockets and speedy armored advances.
But it’s the last 72 hours that have perhaps most betrayed Russia’s lacking readiness.
First, the apparent firing of the deputy defense minister in charge of logistics, Mikhail Mizintsev. The Russian Ministry of Defense has not spelled out his dismissal, merely issuing a decree that Aleksey Kuzmenkov now has his job.
The “Butcher of Mariupol,” as Mizintsev is known, surely had enough failings over Russia’s disastrous war to merit his firing. But this fails to satisfy the question: Why now?
By removing key ministers in the moments before its army faces Ukraine’s counter-assault, Moscow sends a message of disarray.
And then there’s Yevgeny Prigozhin’s new round of criticism. The Wagner mercenary warlord chose Sunday to give another long interview in which he laid bare the sheer extent of the issues his mercenaries face.
According to the Wagner head, his fighters are so low on ammunition that they may have to withdraw from Bakhmut – the strategically unimportant city they have squandered thousands of lives trying to take.
(A caveat: Prigozhin is not the most trustworthy source, and provides little evidence for what he says. But this sort of public spat isn’t something Moscow would encourage at this sensitive moment).
Russia’s eroding ammunition supplies were long known, but to suggest imminent failure just ahead of the counteroffensive smacks of a major bid to shift blame.
The bottom line is, the hours before Ukraine moves are shrinking. The amount we know about their emotional state, or target, is almost zero. And the extent of Moscow’s internal indecision, rivalries and disunity only grows.