According to leading military experts, UKRAINIAN troops are ready to use their shiny new Western weapons in a “Big Bang” attack to humiliate Vladimir Putin.
The Sun Online spoke to former US General Ben Hodges, retired British Army Brigadier Ben Barry and former British Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon about Kiev’s next steps to defeat Russia.
And while they have given differing accounts of what the counteroffensive might look like, everyone agrees that Ukraine has the ability to put a big bloody nose in the Russians.
Brave soldiers are holding the line against Putin’s twisted invasion – they have endured for months some of the war’s bloodiest combat in brutal trench warfare-style hand-to-hand combat.
But Ukraine’s leaders have made it clear that they view this high-attrition battle as a price worth paying while they stand ready for their counteroffensive.
Behind the front lines, a new wave of troops, determined to protect their homeland, are training with Western weapons.
You will roll into battle with important new equipment such as the Challenger 2, M1 Abrams and Leopard 2 main battle tanks, armored vehicles from Stryker and Bradley and new artillery systems.
With these weapons – in theory, they should outflank and outflank the Russians and lay the foundation for the new offensive.
General Hodges told The Sun Online he believes Ukraine will make it big – and will focus its efforts on finally retaking Crimea, which has been in Russian hands since 2014.
Colonel de Bretton likened a possible Ukrainian attack to “Operation Desert Storm” – with their troops attempting to advance up to 200 miles behind the Russian line in a blitzkrieg-style attack.
And meanwhile, Brigadier Barry said the counter-offensive would be like a “big bang” to try to break the stalemate – particularly around Bakhmut.
He told The Sun Online: “Ukraine could kill every Russian soldier within 200 miles of Bakhmut and it wouldn’t change the strategic situation.”
However, General Hodges – former commander of US Army Europe – believes the offensive will be far more ambitious than winning the battle for Bakhmut.
It was never going to be a spring offensive
US General Ben Hodges
“The key is to win Crimea – that will be the crucial terrain. Once Crimea is liberated, it will all be over, it will change everything.
“Ukraine knows it will never be safe without retaking Crimea.”
Given Hodges’ extensive military experience, he believes the offensive will focus on isolating the annexed Crimea peninsula by severing the land bridge from partially Russian-controlled areas in southern Ukraine.
“It will aim to break that land bridge and more precision weapons to hit targets and make the peninsula untenable for Russian forces,” he explained.
He believes this attack will involve hitting Russian air bases, ambitious strikes on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and targeting logistics and command centers deep in enemy territory in Crimea.
“If it makes sense,” Hodges said, they could blow up “again” the Crimean Bridge — Putin’s favorite bridge that was attacked last October.
Ukrainian commanders are believed to have blown up the £3.2 billion Kerch Bridge – a highly symbolic link between Vlad’s mainland and annexed Crimea.
General Hodges claims the offensive will focus on a narrow area to break through well-entrenched Russian lines.
“I think Ukraine will pick one or two locations to concentrate its attack on a narrow front a few kilometers wide and push through the fortified front lines with tanks, mechanized infantry, engineers and artillery.
He continued: “They will use their air force to cover them and there will be special forces and partisan activity in the Russian rear to prevent them from responding [to the attack].”
When could it happen? “It would never be a spring offensive,” he said.
“They’ve been busy training, practicing and carefully guarding information – waiting for the right conditions for trafficability – and waiting on the ground to be able to sustain the attack,” he speculated.
Colonel de Bretton-Gordon also predicts that the Ukrainians will be ambitious in their counterattack – key being their new arsenal of Ukrainian Maine main battle tanks.
He said Western armor will surpass the aging Soviet-era tank fleet currently deployed by Putin, smashing through tank traps, trenches and barbed wire like the so-called “Saddam Line” in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Saddam Hussein’s fortifications were breached within hours by US forces armed with M1 Abrams tanks – just like the Ukrainians now have in their arsenal.
The Desert Storm ground offensive lasted just 100 hours and saw an army led by American and British forces mince Saddam’s tanks and troops – who eventually surrendered en masse.
Colonel De Bretton-Gordon told The Sun Online: “Over four days [in Desert Storm] We’ve covered a few hundred miles. The Ukrainians will probably want to go a little further, but not much further.’
In the battles that followed, Western tanks like the Abrams and Challenger faced off against Russian armor and made short work of them.
Similarly, if the Ukrainians can breach Russian defenses, they will exploit this position to cause chaos and destruction behind enemy lines.
The key to Ukraine’s victory, says Colonel De Bretton-Gordon, will be creating the logistics to sustain such an advance until it can get far enough behind Russian lines to wreak maximum havoc.
He added: “Ukrainians are very smart. I was impressed by their way of working.
“There isn’t much we can teach them. Of course we taught them how to use our tanks and artillery, but in terms of teaching the generals they are already very impressive.
“Now they have tanks and artillery for close combat, I’m pretty confident they’ll be able to do that [succeed].”
For months the war has been “in a stalemate” and the frontlines have remained “rather static” but Brigadier Barry told The Sun Online – but changes are afoot.
The Senior Fellow in Land Warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Russia made “very slow progress at the cost of enormous casualties” at Bakhmut.
Bakhmut has been dubbed the “bloodiest battle” of the war to date – with both sides engaged in a meat grinder-style fight, with reports of soldiers beating each other to death with shovels.
Ukraine has “repeatedly said that 2023 is the year of counter-offensives in which they want to expel Russia from Ukraine,” he said.
“Ukraine will want to make sure the offense works so let’s look at a focused ‘big bang’ attack rather than dribble it away in penny packets.”
He continued, “The longer they delay, the more advanced weapons and armor they will deploy and train people to use.”
As is well known, Ukraine is forming a network of new “assault brigades” – with around 40,000 soldiers.
Named the Hurricane, Spartan, Chervona Kalyna, Frontier, Rage, Asov and Kara Dag (a mountain in Crimea), Ukraine’s new units are preparing to play their part in a crucial new offensive to push back Putin’s forces.
War analysts from the Conflict Intelligence Team said the main goal of the new counteroffensive is to “unblock” Bakhmut.
“The vehicles are already at the disposal of the military on the territory of Ukraine and can be used in combat in the near future,” the team wrote in its March 28 situation report.
“We anticipate that the primary objective of the Ukrainian counteroffensive will be to unblock Bakhmut.”
The commander of the Ukrainian land forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, recently said: “Our task is to destroy as many enemies as possible and create the conditions for an offensive.”
Russian and Eastern European security expert Samantha de Bendern said she was also skeptical that a Ukrainian counter-offensive would take place at least until the summer.
She told The Sun Online that her troops are “busy defending Bakhmut and holding it to the skin of their teeth… and won’t be ready any time soon”.
“That will change very soon,” she said, as Ukraine’s foreign-trained troops arrive and their glittering new weapons and machinery arrive.
One thing is absolutely certain: Ukraine will never give up.
Samantha de Bender
She agrees with the military experts and believes “they can’t work on all fronts…it’s going to be a concentrated attack.”
“The front line is so long, it’s about as long as the distance from London to Barcelona”.
However, the former political officer at NATO headquarters said the offensive will be “Ukrainians’ best-kept secret.”
They are the masters of “surprise,” she said, who know how to disguise their real intentions, “invent false lies and then attack elsewhere.”
The Chatham House Associate Fellow disagrees that Crimea will be Ukraine’s target as “there is pressure from the Americans not to attack the peninsula too much, they don’t welcome Ukrainian ideals of liberating Crimea”.
Instead, de Bendern believes the attack will be focused eastward and will depend entirely on when the Western weapons being sent to Ukraine become operational.
Air support is also absolutely necessary for any Ukrainian offensive, she said. The recently leaked Pentagon files revealed the basic truth that “Ukrainian air defenses are exhausted” and with them their planes.
Whatever the plan behind the offensive, de Bendern said: “One thing is absolutely certain – Ukraine will never give up.
“You will fight to the last man.”