An Update on Ukraine’s Campaigns
Measuring Success in Ukraine's Multi-Domain Efforts
It has been another interesting week to observe the war in Ukraine. Ukraine has made incremental gains in its land campaigns and conducted more strike operations against targets on Russian territory. At the same time, strategic influence activities by President Zelensky have resulted in commitments for the provision of F-16 fighter aircraft, and training of their pilots and ground crews, by Denmark, The Netherlands and Greece. A less successful influence campaign plan has been the continued leaks in Washington DC, with ‘experts and officials’ criticising Ukraine’s conduct of the war.
One of the most demanding elements of designing, planning and executing a large-scale offensive campaign is deciding what the measures of success are. What objectives, or proportion of objectives, must be achieved, to judge the overall campaign a success? Many commentators who describe the Ukrainian southern offensive as ‘slow’ are using unclear metrics for this description. Without a clear understanding of Ukraine’s strategic and operational objectives, it is very hard to draw conclusions about the tempo of operations.
For that reason, back in April in my Futura Doctrina post on this topic, I described seven key measures of success for Ukraine’s 2023 campaign. Without consistent and clear measures of success, reporting on progress is very difficult. In this article, I offer another update on Ukraine’s progress in its current operations as assessed against the seven key measures of progress.
However, before providing this assessment, some additional context is necessary. These measures are applied to the overall Ukrainian conduct of operations, not just the southern offensive. The reason for this is that Ukrainian success in 2023 needs to be measured against all of its endeavours, not just one front. To that end, I offer a short description of Ukraine’s many campaigns, which is also explored in this previous article.
The Ukrainian Campaigns of 2023
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion 547 days ago, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have developed an ability to plan and execute military campaigns and operations on a wide scale. The Ukrainian campaigns, being executed in the east, north, and south of the country nation, in the skies above, in the Black Sea and in the information and cyber domains, possess an inherent complexity that can be difficult to appreciate in their totality.
There are seven discernible Ukrainian campaigns being executed at present.
The Land Campaigns. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are executing multiple campaigns with their ground forces. In the south, Ukraine is advancing methodically on two major axes in the southeast and southwest. On the Berdyansk and Melitopol axes, they are fighting their way through a well-designed Russian defensive scheme of manevuer and gradually increasing the pressure on the Russians. This is being supported by the campaign of operational strikes described below.
In the east, Ukraine is conducting an offensive around Bakhmut, where it has made some gains over the past eight weeks. In the northeast, Ukraine is fighting a defensive campaign against the new Russian offensive in Luhansk oblast. In particular, Russian forces have conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on August 22 and made minor advances.
The Air, Missile and Drone Defensive Campaign. Ukraine is continuing its campaign to defend against Russian air, missile and drone attacks. This campaign, which began on the first evening of the war, has seen ongoing adaptation by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. They have absorbed multiple short, medium and long-range Western air defence systems, and integrated these with older Soviet-era systems to produce an effective air defence network.
Operational Strike Campaign. Ukraine is also undertaking an operational strike campaign, that is aiming to corrode Russian fighting power in the south and east. This strike campaign is utilising long range missiles, including Storm Shadow and SCALP air-launched missiles, as well as maritime drones. Targets of this campaign include Russian logistic store locations, Crimean military targets, headquarters and important transportation nodes. Offensive maritime strikes are also being conducted by Ukraine, with new generations of semi-submersible and stealthy maritime attack drones being used.
Strategic Strike Campaign. Ukraine is accelerating its program of strategic strikes against Russia. This has included multiple drone attacks on Moscow, including two in the past week (22 and 18 August). It also includes attacks on Russian airbases, including an attack this week which (according to British defence intelligence) destroyed at least one Tupolev Tu-22M3 supersonic long-range bomber at the Soltsky-2 military air base, the Belgorod incursions of this year, the recent attack on a Russian oil tanker, and the multiple attacks on the Kerch Bridge. These strikes are more political than military and aim to put pressure on Putin in front of the Russian people, and to answer for why he ‘can’t defend Russia’. They do however have secondary military aims.
I expect that this campaign will be an enduring one (as will operational strikes). Consequently, once the land campaigns inevitably tail off towards the back end of this year, these strikes provide Ukraine with a method of continuing to hit Russia, and place political pressure on Putin. Even without ATACMS, Ukraine appears to have adapted its ability to strike at longer ranges within Russia. And, it increasingly has diplomatic support for such strikes. On 22 August, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock supported Ukraine’s right to strike targets on Russian soil, saying that Kyiv acts within international law.
Strategic Influence Campaign. Providing an umbrella over the top of these campaigns in the physical world is the ongoing Ukrainian strategic influence campaign. This has been a continuous endeavour since the start of the war, and recently has included updates on the war. The most recent component of this campaign has been the Ukrainian President lightening tour of Europe which has seen commitments for additional arms as well as provision of F-16 aircraft and training of their crews. However, the recent articles in the Washington Post and New York Times that have been critical of the Ukrainian offensives so far are not helping this strategic influence campaign.
Enabling Campaigns. A range of other less visible, but vital, enabling campaigns are also continuing. One is training, which includes recruit training, specialist training and collective training, all of which are vital to sustaining frontline campaigns. Another is the equipping and re-equipping campaigns for the Ukrainian armed forces. This includes the absorption of NATO equipment of many types, sourcing Soviet era equipment, munitions and efforts such as the Army of Drones initiatives. Another enabling campaign is cyber defence and ensuring the resilience of Ukrainian infrastructure against Russian cyber intrusion. These are critical for Ukraine’s overall war effort.
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