After 180 days of tough struggle, the Ukrainian offensive is now actually gaining momentum. Around the village of Robotyne, Kiev's troops were able to deepen and at the same time widen the breakthrough into the Russian positions. They were able to penetrate the main Russian defense line in front of the village of Werbowe. One cannot yet speak of a breakthrough through this line in a military sense; for this to happen, Ukraine would have to break deeper.
In this context, Trent Maul, chief analyst at the American Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), gave one of his rare interviews to the Economist. The developments of the past few days also make him positive. “If we had had this conversation two weeks ago, I would have been a little more pessimistic,” he told the paper. "The breakthrough on this second defense belt... is actually quite significant." This line is alternately called the second line of defense or the first main line of defense. This is where the Russian system of outpost positions ended.
The question now is, can Kiev overcome this second line in width, advance deeper into the area and then push through the Russians' third major line? Behind this, the structure of the Russian system changes; there are no longer any or less coherent blockade lines. The DIA is far less well known than the CIA. It does not plan agents' missions abroad, but rather collects information about military powers. It provides the information base for military planning.
Trent Maul admits that the Ukrainian military and its allies underestimated the difficulties posed by the Russian positioning system. According to his assessment, Kiev can maintain the offensive for another six to seven weeks. By then, at the latest, the muddy weather will make offensive operations massively difficult. At the same time, the offensive power of the Ukrainian armed forces is likely to be exhausted. The offensive can then no longer be nourished by adding fresh, strong units. The last fresh mechanized elite formations in Kiev are already in action. The final successes were achieved by the 82nd Air Assault Brigade. For the continuation of the fighting, it will be crucial whether Moscow can continue to supply its units with large quantities of artillery ammunition. And to what extent Kiev receives ammunition, says Maul.
The analyst disagrees with some of the views that emerged in the discussion. There was widespread criticism in the West that Kiev had spread its best troops across several sectors and was therefore unable to really deploy a massive focus of all forces at Robotyne.
"Success is doubtful even if the Ukrainians used the kind of tactics that others hope would have made more aggressive gains in a shorter period of time." The opposing position is that a massive massing of armored units would not have led to a quick breakthrough, but that these troops would have been left stranded in minefields and artillery fire in the same way - only with far greater losses. And that the Ukrainian tactic of sustained grueling attacks with small groups, while slow, is ultimately more successful.
However, Mault does not share any other optimistic assessment. Ukrainian generals told the Guardian that Russia had assembled about 80 percent of all forces in the first and second lines of defense. If a deep breakthrough were successful there, the Kremlin would have no troops to seal off the attack or to occupy the other positions. Maul, on the other hand, assumes that the majority of Russian reinforcements are in the third zone. So you can't expect to find empty trenches there.
On the other hand, it is positive that the Kremlin has lost two of its most capable commanders. Sergei Surovokin was removed from service and Yevgeny Prigozhin died when his plane crashed. This removed the mastermind behind the Russian defense system and the conqueror of Bakhmut from the game.
Nevertheless, overall Maul is only cautiously optimistic. The "Economist" draws attention to how carefully the analyst chooses his words. When it comes to Ukrainian progress, he chooses the word “significant.” And when it comes to the prospects of breaking through the third Russian line, he speaks of a “realistic possibility,” which can be translated as 40 to 50 percent. Or like this: The chance of not achieving this goal is 50 to 60 percent greater. He also warned that a breakthrough would be "very difficult" due to a lack of ammunition and the weather.
Another indication of the skeptical attitude: The DIA is already turning its attention to spring 2024. Next year, Ukrainian troops will be in a much better position if they manage to expand and consolidate the conquests around Robotyne, Mault said.
This is also an open question: Will Kiev be satisfied with a rather disappointing success at Robotyne in order to build a solid base for a later offensive? Or is Ukraine still looking for a push into the depths? Then the breakthrough to the sea may no longer be attractive, but the liberation of a strategically important city like Tokmak. The places that have been liberated so far are all just small settlements that can hardly be called villages. In the event of failure, what has been achieved so far could also be lost again.