(Bloomberg) – Ukraine’s new NATO-standard tanks and combat vehicles appear in battlefield images as military analysts say the long-awaited Kiev counteroffensive is underway.
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German-made Leopard tanks and American Bradley fighting vehicles pushing towards the town of Tokmak in occupied southern Ukraine appeared in photographs posted by Russian military bloggers that appear genuine, according to Osint Defender, a group online open source intelligence who said so. geotagged the images and checked for signs that they had been manipulated.
The images were taken from Russian Defense Ministry video which showed a column of vehicles going into action and at least one being destroyed. Oryx, another online group that conservatively lists equipment losses on both sides, added a first Leopard 2A4 tank to its list.
“The Ukrainian counteroffensive has begun,” Ben Barry, senior land warfare researcher at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in an emailed comment. “Since June 4, Ukrainian forces have been attacking along the front line. This is aimed at keeping Russian forces in place and looking for weaknesses.
Ukraine is counting on the campaign to drive Russian forces out of more of its territory, cementing support from its allies and avoiding pressure from some other capitals for peace talks that would force it to cede ground. The US and European governments have provided tens of billions of dollars in arms and training to Ukrainian troops as they prepare to face a Russian army that has spent months digging in defensive positions.
It remains unclear whether the Ukrainian operations are spearheading a main attack or efforts to expose weak spots in Russian defences, according to a European official.
Ukrainian forces made some advances in the south this week, but equipment losses were also significant, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. kyiv is expected to seek to bisect the area currently occupied by Russia, cutting vital lines of supply and communication for Moscow’s troops in Crimea.
“The counteroffensive is unlikely to unfold as one big operation,” the Institute for the Study of War said Thursday. “It will likely consist of many businesses in many places of varying size and intensity over several weeks.” The Washington-based think tank said the initial phase could see the highest Ukrainian casualties.
At least some Russian military bloggers continued to warn that Ukraine’s advances were not being recognized by officials in Moscow.
Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov reported to President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that a Ukrainian force from a strong brigade attacked overnight but failed to break through Russian defenses, according to a Russian ministry statement. of the defense. These claims could not be independently verified.
Earlier in the week, the ministry released video showing Russian helicopters destroying a Leopard tank, but independent analysts later said footage showed they had hit tractors and other farm equipment.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Thursday that fighting was underway in the south and around the eastern town of Bakhmut, but gave no further information.
The large deployment of Leopard and Challenger 2 tanks, or infantry fighting vehicles such as the German Bradleys and Marders that Ukraine has received since December, would clearly signal an ongoing counteroffensive, according to Barry of the IISS.
He said reports from Russian military bloggers around Tokmak would also suggest, if confirmed, that at least one of Ukraine’s newly trained and equipped assault brigades is now engaged in combat.
“Russia plans to fight linear defensive battles from trench lines, exploiting obstacle belts, retreating to deeper defensive positions when pressed,” Barry said. “The main known unknown is the extent to which Russia has credible reserve formations capable of reacting to Ukrainian thrusts to block or counterattack.”
Ukraine has formed about nine assault brigades for the counter-offensive.
“Everything is just beginning,” Ivan Popov, commander of Russia’s 58th army, told the Defense Ministry’s Telegram channel. “We will prepare.”
–With the help of Alberto Nardelli.
(Add first confirmed Leopard tank loss to third paragraph)
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