UKRAINIAN troops are readying to use their shiny new Western weapons in a “big bang-style” onslaught to humiliate Vladimir Putin, according to top military experts.
The Sun Online spoke to former US General Ben Hodges, retired British Army Brigadier Ben Barry, and ex-Brit Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon about Kyiv’s next steps to defeat Russia.
And while they gave varied accounts of how the counter-offensive could look, they all agree Ukraine has the capability to give the Russians a major bloody nose.
Brave soldiers have been holding the line against Putin’s twisted invasion – enduring for months some of the bloodiest fighting of the war in brutal, close quarters trench warfare-style battles.
But the Ukrainian leadership has been clear, they view this high-attrition fighting as a price worth paying while they ready for their counter offensive.
Behind the frontline, a new wave of troops determined to protect their homeland have been training with Western weapons.
They will be rolling into battle with key new pieces of kit, such as Challenger 2, M1 Abrams, and Leopard 2 main battle tanks, Stryker and Bradley armoured vehicles, and new artillery systems.
With these weapons – in theory should outrange and outmatch the Russians, laying the groundwork for the new offensive.
General Hodges told The Sun Online he believes Ukraine will go big – and concentrate their efforts on finally retaking Crimea, which has been in Russian hands since 2014.
Colonel de Bretton compared a potential Ukrainian strike to “Operation Desert Storm” – with their forces seeking to push up to 200 miles behind the Russian line in a blitzkrieg style assault.
Most read in The Sun
And meanwhile, Brigadier Barry said the counter offensive will be like a “big bang” to try and break the stalemate – particularly around Bakhmut.
However, General Hodges – former commander of the US Army Europe – believes the offensive will be far more ambitious than winning the battle for 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.”
It was never going to be a spring offensive
US General Ben Hodges
“The key is winning Crimea – that will be the decisive terrain. Once Crimea is liberated, it’s all over, it changes everything.
“Ukraine knows that it will never be safe without taking back Crimea.”
With Hodges’ extensive military experience, he believes that the offensive will focus on isolating the annexed Crimean peninsula by severing the land bridge from partly-Russian controlled areas in Ukraine’s south.
“It will be aimed at breaking this land bridge and more precision weapons to hit targets and make the peninsula untenable for Russian forces,” he explained.
This onslaught he believes will involve hitting Russia’s air bases, ambitious attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and targeting logistics & command centres deep into enemy-held territory in Crimea.
“When it makes sense to,” Hodges said that they may “again” blow up the Crimean bridge – Putin’s favourite bridge that was attacked last October.
Ukrainian commanders are presumed to have blown in the £3.2billion Kerch Bridge – a highly symbolic link between Vlad’s mainland and annexed Crimea.
General Hodges claims that the offensive will be concentrated in a narrow area to break through the well-dug in Russian lines.
“I think Ukraine will pick one or two places to focus their attack on a narrow front a few miles wide and penetrate through the fortified frontlines using tanks, mechanised infantry, engineers and artillery.
He continued: “They will use their air force to help cover them and there will be activity in Russian rear area by special forces and partisans to stop them reacting [to the attack].”
When could it happen? “It was never going to be a spring offensive,” he stated.
“They’ve been busy training, practising and carefully protecting information – they’re waiting on the right conditions for traffic ability – waiting on the ground to be able to sustain the attack,” he speculated.
Colonel de Bretton-Gordon also predicts the Ukrainians will be ambitious in their counter strike – with the key being their new arsenal of Ukrainian maine battle tanks.
He said the Western armour will outmatch the ageing Soviet-era tank fleet currently being used by Putin, punching through tank traps, trenches and barbed wire like the so-called “Saddam Line” in the Operation Desert Storm back in 1991.
Saddam Hussein’s fortifications were breached in a matter of hours by the US forces using M1 Abrams tanks – just as 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 make mincemeat of Saddam’s tanks and troops – who ended up surrendering en masse.
Colonel De Bretton-Gordon told The Sun Online: “Over four days [in Desert Storm] we covered a couple of hundred miles. The Ukrainians will probably want to go a bit further but not much further.’
The ensuing battles saw Western tanks like the Abrams and Challenger face off against Russian armour and make short work of them.
If they Ukrainians can in similar style smash through Russia’s defences, they will then exploit that position to cause havoc and destruction behind enemy lines.
The key to Ukrainian victory, Colonel De Bretton-Gordon says, will be putting in place the logistics to maintain such an advance until it can get far enough behind Russian lines to cause maximum devastation.
He added: “The Ukrainians are very canny. I’ve been impressed with the way they operate.
“There isn’t much we can teach them. Obviously 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 the close fight, I’m pretty confident they’ll be able to [succeed].”
For months now, the war has been “at stalemate” and frontlines have remained “pretty static”, but Brigadier Barry told The Sun Online – but change is coming.
The senior fellow for land warfare at International Institute for Strategic Studies said Russia has been making “very slow progress at the cost of enormous casualties” in Bakhmut.
Bakhmut has been referred to as the “bloodiest battle” of the war so far – with both side locked in meat grinder-style combat, with reports of soldiers beating each other to death with shovels.
Ukraine has “said repeatedly 2023 is the year of counteroffensives, where they want to evict Russia from Ukraine,” he explained.
“Ukraine will want to make sure that offensive works, so we’re looking at a ‘big bang’ concentrated attack, rather than dribbling it away in penny packets.”
He continued: “The longer they delay it, the more modern weapons and armour they will have in service and train people to operate it.”
Ukraine is known to be forming a network of new “Storm Brigades” – with around 40,000 soldiers.
Named Hurricane, Spartan, Chervona Kalyna, Frontier, Rage, Azov and Kara Dag (a mountain in Crimea), Ukraine’s new units are preparing to play their role in a decisive new offensive to push back Putin’s troops.
War analysts at the Conflict Intelligence Team said the main goal of the fresh counter offensive will be to “unblock” Bakhmut.
“The vehicles are already on the territory of Ukraine at the disposal of its military and may be used in combat in the nearest future,” the team wrote in their situation report on March 28.
“We expect that the primary goal of the Ukrainian counter-offensive will be to unblock Bakhmut.”
Commander of Ukrainian land forces, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, said recently: “Our task is to destroy as many enemies as possible and create the conditions for us to launch an offensive.”
Russian and Eastern Europe security expert Samantha de Bendern said that she is likewise sceptical that a Ukrainian counteroffensive will take place until at least the summer.
She told The Sun Online that its troops are “busy defending Bakhmut and are holding it by the skin of their teeth….and will not be ready in the near-future”.
“That will change very soon,” she said, when the foreign-trained Ukrainian troops arrive and so do their glitzy new weapons and machinery.
One thing is absolutely sure – Ukraine will never give up.
Samantha de Bendern
Agreeing with the military experts, she believes “they can’t go on all fronts… it will be a concentrated assault.”
“The frontline is so long, it’s about as long as the stretch from London to Barcelona”.
However, the former political officer from NATO HQ explained that what the offensive will entail will “be the best kept secret for the Ukrainians”.
They are the masters of “surprise”, she said, who know how to disguise their true intentions, “create fake lays and then attack somewhere else”.
The Chatham House Associate Fellow disagrees that Crimea will be Ukraine’s aim as “there is pressure from the Americans not too attack the peninsula, they are not welcoming to Ukrainian ideals of liberating Crimea”.
Instead, de Bendern believes the attack will be focused East and will wholly depend on when the Western weapons sent to Ukraine will become operational.
Air support will also be absolutely essential to any Ukrainian offensive, she said. The recently leaked Pentagon files exposed the fundamental truth that “Ukraine air defences are running out” and so too are their aircrafts.
Whatever the plan behind the offensive, de Bendern said: “one thing is absolutely sure – Ukraine will never give up.
“They will fight to the last man.”