by Raffaele Crocco

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is now in its 74th week. The question is: what is the state of the Ukrainian offensive to regain lost territories? Lost in the silence of war bulletins that have become cryptic or silent, the answer remains vague. In the first phase of this war, events on the battlefield were the main source of information, especially for the Ukrainian president Zelenskyy. Now the choice is different. It is a choice of silence.

According to the fragmentary information filtering through military commands and social media, the Ukrainians are reportedly on the offensive in the Zaporizhzhya region in the south of the country. Pro-Russian authorities in the region reported: “The second wave of the Ukrainian forces’ counter-offensive has begun. The enemy has sent maximum forces to break through our defences in the direction of Orekhov. On 26 July, after massive artillery preparation and air strikes, the Ukrainians stormed our positions near Robotyne. The statement was made by Vladimir Rogov of the Zaporizhzhya military-civil administration. He also said that Ukrainian forces had wedged themselves into the Russian first line of defence, with heavy and fierce fighting all along the southern front.  Rogov wrote on Telegram: “At least 100 armoured vehicles were used by the Ukrainians to attack the Orekhov section of the Zaporizhzhya front.” Meanwhile, Russian troops were reported to have advanced three kilometres towards Krasolimansky in Lugansk. The advance would be the work of the 15th Motorised Rifle Brigade, which would then resist the Ukrainian counter-offensive.

So the fighting continues, heavy, fierce. And the Russians stress the widespread use of European and US equipment and weapons, such as Leopard and BMP Bradley tanks. Curiously, though, it is the allied weaponry that is causing the men in Kyiv problems. So says the magazine “Defence Analysis”, referring to a report by the Pentagon’s inspector on military supplies to Ukraine. The document speaks of “noncombat-ready” material, i.e. material that is often unsuitable for noncombat use, in part because of a lack of maintenance. There are many examples. For instance, a batch of artillery pieces that were stored in a warehouse in Kuwait and were to be sent to Kyiv. According to the experts, they were in such a condition that they ‘could kill anyone who fired them’. Another six howitzers had to be repaired by the experts in Poland. Then, of a batch of 29 Hummer M1167s presented as operational, 26 were later found to be inoperable, including dead batteries and other problems. There is no shortage of Italian examples: out of twenty M109L howitzers delivered from Rome in early 2023, not a single one would have been operational due to failures and other defects.

In short, beyond the declarations, supplying arms to those who wage war remains a choice full of rhetoric, contradictions and ambiguities. Be that as it may, the war continues and Moscow seems determined to keep it going for a long time. The lower house of the Russian parliament has extended conscription. It is now up to 30 years. Analysts say the move is a prelude to a new wave of conscription to cope with the devastating losses of the war in Ukraine. No one is really talking about negotiations. The chancelleries appreciate the Vatican’s peace efforts, which remain without concrete results. Nothing else is moving, at least on the surface. Arms still speak louder than words.