US intelligence believes that Ukraine will not reach the key goal of the offensive, which is to retake Melitopol.
Source: The Washington Post citing sources familiar with the "secret forecast" by US intelligence, and Ukrainian, US and European government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity
Details: The newspaper’s sources stated that Ukraine would not be able to reach the city of Melitopol, according to US intelligence. This means that if the forecast comes true, Ukraine will not fulfil the main goal of the offensive – to cut off Russia's land corridor with occupied Crimea.
Quote from WP: "The grim assessment is based on Russia’s brutal proficiency in defending occupied territory through a phalanx of minefields and trenches, and is likely to prompt finger pointing inside Kyiv and Western capitals about why a counteroffensive that saw tens of billions of dollars of Western weapons and military equipment fell short of its goals."
More details: US officials say that Ukrainian troops advancing on Melitopol from the settlement of Robotyne, located more than 50 miles [about 80 km – ed.] from the city, will remain a few miles away. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.
WP mentions that Ukraine has invested enormous resources in Bakhmut, including human lives and ammunition. Some in the Biden administration have expressed concern that commitments in the east could undermine the potential for an offensive in the south.
The new intelligence assessment coincides with a US "secret February forecast" believed to have been leaked on Discord. It states that the lack of equipment and the number of troops may mean that the offensive will remain "well short" from achieving its goal of severing the land bridge to Crimea by August.
In this assessment, Melitopol or Mariupol are identified as targets "to deny Russian overland access to Crimea."
WP also reported that, despite the expectations of Western allies, the pace of the Ukrainian offensive has been slowed down, among other things, by the decision of the Ukrainian command to reduce casualties on the battlefield.
Quote from WP: "US officials said Washington was still open to Kyiv surprising sceptics and overcoming the odds. One defence official said it is possible that Ukraine could buck historical norms and continue the counteroffensive through the winter, when everything including keeping soldiers warm and stocked with food and ammunition becomes much more difficult.
But that would rely on several important factors, such as the amount of rest troops need after a hard fighting season. It would also depend on how much specialised equipment and cold-weather clothing they have on hand, the defence official said. But Moscow may also outperform during winter military operations.
‘Russians are known to be capable of fighting in cold weather,’ the official said."
For reference: Melitopol is crucial for the Ukrainian offensive, as it is considered the gateway to Crimea. The city is located at the intersection of two important roads and a railway line that allow Russia to transfer troops and equipment from the peninsula to other occupied territories in Ukraine's south.
- Late in June, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said that soldiers were paying in blood for the liberation of every metre of Ukrainian land, so he was annoyed by other people's comments that the counteroffensive is slower than expected.
- Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, in an interview with AFP, commenting on the pace of the advance of the Armed Forces, said that Ukraine will not stop fighting, and "we don't care how long it takes." Kuleba also called on critics of the pace of the Ukrainian offensive to join the Foreign Legion.
- President Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasised that the Ukrainian offensive is not a Hollywood movie, and that people's lives are at stake. At the same time, he admitted that the progress on the battlefield since the beginning of the offensive of the Armed Forces was "slower than we would like it to be".
- Zelenskyy explained in one of his addresses that the offensive was supposed to begin in the spring, when the Russians had not yet had time to build so many defence lines, including mining territories. Meanwhile, there was not enough ammunition in Ukraine at that time.