Ukraine stands to make significant progress into Russian-controlled territory after reportedly breaking through Moscow’s first line of defenses in the south of the country, making “all that hard fighting worth it,” an expert has told Newsweek.
Kyiv’s fighters are now between the first and second defensive lines, Ukraine’s commander of the Tavria group of forces, Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskiy, told British newspaper The Observer in an article published on Saturday.
Ukraine began its concerted push against Moscow’s forces in the south and east of the country in early June, but initially struggled to retake significant amounts of land. A delayed start to the counteroffensive gave Russia time to mine much of the territory and to establish well-defended positions in advance of Ukraine’s operations getting underway.
“In the center of the offensive, we are now completing the destruction of enemy units that provide cover for the retreat of Russian troops behind their second defensive line,” he said.
Getting through Russia’s defensive lines is key to Ukraine then moving from “a tactical breakthrough battle to mobile warfare and operational exploitation,” Frederik Mertens, a strategic analyst with the Hague Center for Security Studies, told Newsweek.
This will have “the double goal of cutting through the land bridge and destroying as many Russian units as possible,” Mertens said. “This would be the military reward that makes all that hard fighting worth it” for Ukraine, he added.
The news is one of Ukraine’s “messages to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Lithuania’s former defense and foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“It is expected that the counteroffensive will speed up from here on out,” political strategist and consultant, Jason Jay Smart, added on social media.
In late August, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank said Ukraine may have “broken through the most difficult line of Russian defenses” in the contested Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine.
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment via email.
“There is a very big difference between the first and second line of defense,” Tarnavskiy told The Observer.
Kyiv had made new “tactically significant gains” in Russian-annexed regions in the south of the country, with its fighters pushing through some of the “most challenging” defensive positions, the ISW said in an assessment published on August 26.
In a little over a week since this analysis, experts and Ukrainian officials have suggested Ukraine was bearing down on Russian forces in Zaporizhzhia, working their way towards the occupied city of Melitopol and the Sea of Azov.
“There have been some successes, in particular in the direction of Novodanylivka [and] Novoprokopivka,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, Hanna Maliar, said on Thursday, referring to two Zaporizhzhia villages.
On Friday, the White House said it had seen “some notable progress” by Ukraine over the previous days in Zaporizhzhia.
“They have achieved some success against that second line of Russian defenses,” White House National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby, told the media.
“In my opinion, the Russians believed the Ukrainians would not get through this line of defense,” Ukraine’s Tarnavskiy said. “They had been preparing for over one year. They did everything to make sure that this area was prepared well.”
The following day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed Ukraine’s troops were making progress and were “on the move” against Russia’s dug-in soldiers and well-defended positions.
“Ukrainian forces are moving forward,” he said in a post to social media. “Despite everything, and no matter what anyone says, we are advancing, and that is the most important thing. We are on the move.”
Russian forces have targeted several Zaporizhzhia settlements over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s General Staff said in an operational update on Sunday morning.
“The Defense Forces of Ukraine continue to conduct an offensive operation in the Melitopol direction, strengthen on the reached borders [and] carry out counterbattery resistance measures,” the General Staff added.
Russian troops “repelled three attacks” from Ukrainian brigades around the contested Zaporizhzhia settlements of Robotyne and Verbove, to the south of the city of Orikhiv, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday.