Can Russia and the US resolve the conflict without triggering a nuclear crisis?
The stated aim of the much-hyped Ukrainian counteroffensive was to inflict a major strategic defeat on Russia by cutting off the land corridor to Crimea. But hardly anyone in the Western military and political establishment with any real knowledge believed that Kiev would be able to achieve such a result. It would have been strange to expect otherwise: throughout the war, the Ukrainians have never managed to break through prepared defenses of Russian troops.
The Kharkov offensive in September 2022 was conducted against an extremely small and stretched Russian force with no serious fortification system. The Kherson Region push in August-November 2022 was also carried out against depleted and overstretched defenders, but resulted in only limited advances with heavy casualties until the threat of the destruction of the Dnieper River crossings forced the Russians to retreat to the left bank.
Given this, it seemed strange to expect the Ukrainians to succeed under the new conditions that prevailed by the summer of this year: the numerical balance of forces had shifted in Moscow’s favor; the Russian defense line was well equipped and fortified; and the mobilization of domestic industry was also beginning to show results.
So the real aim of the offensive was not to defeat Russian forces and gain access to the Sea of Azov, but rather to force Moscow to negotiate on terms favorable to the West. This required, firstly, demonstrating that Kiev retained the strategic initiative; secondly, inflicting heavy losses on the Russian army, which would destabilize the situation inside the country; and thirdly, making some headway so as to be able to claim a form of victory.