Ukraine Situation Report: Offensive Going Better Than Expected, U.S. Says

There are indications from the Biden administration that Ukraine is making progress already during its counteroffensive.

Administration officials “were encouraged by better-than-expected progress Monday, as Ukrainian units pushed through heavily mined areas to advance between five and 10 kilometers in some areas of the long front,” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported Tuesday. “That raised hopes that Ukrainian forces can keep thrusting toward Mariupol, Melitopol and other Russian-held places along the coast.”

Biden administration officials say the offensive began on Monday with a Ukrainian thrust south along multiple axes, Ignatius reported, echoing what we reported Monday

The White House, however, said it is too early to tell how the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam across the Dnipro River will affect the counteroffensive.

“I won’t speak to Ukrainian military operations in any way whatsoever,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “But right now- too soon to assess what kind of impact [the dam destruction] is going to have on the battlefield.”

Ukrainian officials have remained quiet about the offensive in an attempt to maintain the element of surprise, a difficult task in a world of social media open source reporting and against an enemy with satellites as well as a network of spies on the ground.

“PLANS LOVE SILENCE,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Tuesday on her Telegram channel. “The offensive will not start in social networks.”

She did, however, say that Ukraine has made additional progress around Bakhmut and expects to elsewhere as well.

Not surprisingly, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had a very different take than Ignatius on the state of play.

He said, as usual offering no proof, that the counteroffensive was crushed and Ukraine lost a tremendous amount of troops and equipment as it staged attacks over three days in several different directions. 

“The losses of the [Armed Forces of Ukraine] amounted to 3,715 troops, 52 tanks, 207 armored fighting vehicles, 134 motor vehicles, five aircraft, two helicopters, 48 pieces of field artillery, and 53 unmanned aerial vehicles,” said Shoigu, who, along with the rest of the Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly exaggerated claims over the course of this conflict.

Shoigu did, however, acknowledge for the first time that Russia too lost troops and equipment in this counteroffensive. But as the Russians have exaggerated Ukrainian losses, they have also drastically downplayed their own.

“Unfortunately, we have some losses too,” he said. “A total of 71 servicemen died and 210 were wounded in repelling the enemy offensive by the combined group of forces.” In addition, “15 tanks, nine infantry fighting vehicles, two motor vehicles, and nine guns were hit,” he said.

The counteroffensive fighting to date, as we reported Monday, has been largely centered in southern Donetsk Oblast and eastern Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

A truer picture will emerge over the coming days and weeks as Ukraine attempts to push southward toward Mariupol and Melitopol. As we reported back in December, Ukraine wants to close off the so-called land bridge to Crimea. The ultimate goal, of course, is to kick Russians out of Ukraine completely.

We will keep you updated on the progress of this effort.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

NBC, citing “multiple sources familiar with the strike” is reporting that last week’s drone attack in Moscow “appeared to target the homes of Russian intelligence officers.” 

It was the first such attack on a residential area in the capital since Russian forces launched an invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, according to NBC

At least one of the apartment buildings hit in the drone strikes has ties to Russia’s SVR, the Foreign Intelligence Service, according to Strider Technologies, a Utah-based strategic intelligence startup that uses open-source data, NBC reported.

“According to the Strider Global Intelligence team, the building was owned by a Russian state budgetary organization, which has held contracts with a military unit known to be a cover for the Foreign Intelligence Service.”

It was not clear whether any SVR officer’s home was damaged or whether any Russian intelligence personnel were injured, according to NBC.

In an exclusive story, The Washington Post on Tuesday reported that “three months before saboteurs bombed the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline, the Biden administration learned from a close ally that the Ukrainian military had planned a covert attack on the undersea network, using a small team of divers who reported directly to the commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces.”

The newspaper wrote that a European intelligence service collected the information and shared it with the CIA in June 2022. The details “provide some of the most specific evidence to date linking the government of Ukraine to the eventual attack in the Baltic Sea, which U.S. and Western officials have called a brazen and dangerous act of sabotage on Europe’s energy infrastructure,” the Post reported.

The European intelligence report was shared on the chat platform Discord, allegedly by Air National Guard member Jack Teixeira. The Post said it obtained a copy from one of Teixeira’s online friends.

When asked about the story during a briefing Tuesday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to “engage in a discussion about intelligence matters from the podium specifically with regard to that disclosure or any of the other,” he said. “And in this case, certainly not going to speak to one that The Washington Post even said was not corroborated by U.S. intelligence agencies.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took another departure from reality Monday, warning that providing Kyiv with U.S.-built F-16s will further escalate the conflict because they can “accommodate” nuclear weapons, Reuters reported.

“We must keep in mind that one of the modifications of the F-16 can ‘accommodate’ nuclear weapons,” Lavrov said in a speech at a military base in Dushanbe in Tajikistan, according to a transcript on the ministry’s website.

Kirby, the NSC spokesman, dismissed Lavrov’s concerns.

“The first thing I would say to Minister Lavrov is: If you’re worried about Ukrainian military capabilities, then you should take your troops and leave Ukraine,” Kirby told reporters at a White House briefing today.

“Number two, these F-16s are going to be provided as a part of long-term defense needs for Ukraine. We’ve been very, very open and transparent about that. It’ll take some time for those jets to get there. We’re going to start with a training program for Ukrainian pilots, and that hasn’t started yet. And it really is about helping Ukraine with its self-defense needs.”

President Joe Biden, he added, “has been extremely consistent that – that we don’t want to see this war escalate, certainly not into the nuclear realm. And it’s not the United States who’s tossing around reckless nuclear rhetoric; it’s people like Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin and — and Putin’s Press Secretary Peskov. They’re the ones that are out there bantering around about nuclear capabilities, not the United States.” 

While some F-16s could have nuclear capabilities before delivery, those would be stripped before being sent to Ukraine. If you want to read about the kinds of weapons that F-16s could field should they ever be sent to Ukraine, you can read our deep dive on the subject here.

At the behest of the Berlin government, the German Rheinmetall arms maker will supply another batch of 20 Marder infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) to Ukraine over the coming months, the company said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The contract has a volume in the “mid-double-digit” million-euro range, a spokesperson for Rheinmetall told reporters in Unterluess in Lower Saxony, Reuters reported. One Euro is currently equal to about $1.07.

The 20 vehicles will come out of Rheinmetall’s stocks of old Marders and be restored over the coming months, he added, noting this would leave the company in the possession of 60 Marder IFVs that could still be refurbished.

Another Russian equipment shortage is manifesting itself on the battlefield, according to the Russian Ghost of Novorossia Telegram channel.

This time, in the form of the V625U LR9 battery, which powers the KPTM-3 anti-tank mining system.

“We were given a good anti-tank cassette remote mining system KPTM-3, but in order for it to become armed after being launched from the cassette, it needs a battery, which we were not supplied with and the analog of this battery on the civilian market ranges from 300 to 500 rubles ($3.69 to $6.15).”

Without a battery, the mining system “will not be on a combat platoon,” the Ghost of Novorossia Telegram channel claimed. “And yes, you could buy it. But the battery is quite rare. Because there is little demand for it. It is hard to find in large quantities at retail. Wholesale too. As a result, we get a good mine, which we cannot apply.”

While Crimea’s occupation governor claimed a Ukrainian drone was taken down by Russian electronic warfare, it appears this is a situation of friendly fire.

“In the eastern part of Crimea, an enemy UAV was jammed and landed by means of electronic warfare,” Crimean occupation governor Sergey Aksenov said on his Telegram channel Tuesday. “There were no casualties or damage. Please remain calm and trust only trusted sources of information.”

The drone, however, is an Iranian Mohajer-6, which has been used by Russian, not Ukrainian forces.

During the battles for Maryinka, one of Russian’s modern tank T-90M “Breakthrough” tanks was destroyed by a Ukrainian mine, the Ukrainian Syagin Telegram channel reported. “The driver-mechanic did not survive, but the commander and gunner escaped.”

There was another apparent sighting of a U.S.-provided Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the wild. Maryana Bezugla, a Ukrainian parliamentarian and member of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, was photographed next to one apparently somewhere in the south of Ukraine.

As if it was not hard enough to ascertain truth in wartime, technological advancements are adding to the problem. In this case, it appears Ukrainian hackers intruded into television programming in occupied Crimea on Monday and broadcast a deep fake of Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing a mass mobilization in Russia.

And finally, now it appears Russia has moved at least one of its ‘cope barges’ to Sevastopol, home of its Black Sea Fleet. Such vessels – covered with multiple radar reflectors, which are metallic devices that are affixed to a barge in order to make it more visible to radar – have previously appeared near the Kerch Bridge. Radar reflectors have been installed alongside key bridges in Russia controlled areas for similar purposes. Their intent is likely to confuse incoming radar-homing missiles.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about the war in Ukraine.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.