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    Has the Counter-offensive of Ukraine Officially Commenced?

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    Ukraine is seeking more military hardware from its allies as it steps up activity along the front line, seeking to pin Russia down and inflict maximum casualties around the flashpoint town of Bakhmut. President Volodymyr Zelensky has been on a tour of European allies, winning pledges from Britain, France and Germany of increased military support. Western capitals are eager to see the offensive start, in the hope Ukraine can make gains and open a path to ending the conflict.

    Ukraine is seeking to take back control of territory occupied by Russian forces in the wake of the February 2022 invasion and also areas, including Crimea and parts of the Donbas, seized by Russia in 2014. The battle for Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine has turned into the longest standoff since the Russian invasion. Ukraine is now saying it is advancing in the area, retaking Russian positions in Bakhmut’s suburbs.

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    Analysts say Ukraine is fixing Russian forces in Bakhmut to keep them committed to a particular front while Ukrainian forces probe different areas. Moscow’s forces switched several weeks ago into a defensive posture, employing a large number of soldiers to hold positions. The Ukrainian counter-offensive consequently risks being deadly and costly in terms of equipment for Kyiv.

    Ukraine has conducted local counter-offensives in and around Bakhmut to roll back Russia’s flanks and gauge defences in the region. Ukrainian forces are likewise probing Russian defences and reaction behaviours. These could be shaping operations to put Ukraine in a better position when the real action starts. The full counter-offensive is likely to involve multiple fronts, including operations to take back the parts of the Zaporizhzhia region it does not currently control.

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    Taking Bakhmut in itself would be a blow to Russia. A successful Ukrainian campaign in the region would frustrate Russia and set Moscow’s war efforts back considerably. The increasingly volatile behaviour of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who leads the Wagner mercenary group, is adding further intrigue. Some commentators argue he risks antagonising Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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