Ukraine war: Kiev’s clever strategists (

Many cultural assets fell victim to the war in Ukraine.

Many cultural assets fell victim to the war in Ukraine.

Many cultural assets fell victim to the war in Ukraine.

Photo: AP/dpa/ Evgeniy Maloletka

The ink with which Russian President Vladimir Putin sealed the illegal annexations of several Ukrainian regions on Friday was not yet dry when Ukrainian soldiers recaptured the city of Lyman from the Russian occupiers. The location, which is particularly important as a logistics center, is located in the east of Ukraine and belongs to the Donetsk region, which, from the point of view of Moscow, has been part of the Russian state since Friday.

After their defeat in the northern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, Russian troops tried to establish a new front line along the Oskil and Siverskyi Donets rivers. Lyman was important because at some point they wanted to push back into the Slovjansk-Kramatorsk conurbation held by Kyiv. But things turned out differently. Only by retreating did 5,000 Russian soldiers stationed in and around Lyman escape death or imprisonment.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy triumphed and tried to amplify the growing rift in the Russian leadership. The victory at Lyman, according to the Ukrainian president, is a warning shot for those who are still at Putin’s side. You’d better solve the problem “with the one who started this war against Ukraine, which is senseless for Russia”. Otherwise, they would be scapegoated one by one – or killed, Zelenskyi prophesied.

The rapid success of the Ukrainian counter-offensives launched in the south and east in late August and early September surprised many observers. Not so the Pentagon press secretary. Air Force Gen. Pat Ryder recently said that if anyone is surprised, “it’s probably the Russians.” The Ukrainians, on the other hand, have shown “a remarkable adaptability in ability” since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Kiev’s military have adopted NATO combat tactics and skillfully combined western weapon systems with those from the Soviet era.

That was too general for a US journalist. He asked specifically about certain exercises that should have taken place before the start of the offensive. Ryder understood what was meant, didn’t deny it, but still “didn’t want to go into the details.” Instead, he spoke of a military dialogue at various levels. It provides “Ukrainians with information that will help them better understand the threats they face and defend their country against Russian aggression.” So that neither the US nor NATO could be considered a party to the war, General Ryder added that it was always clear that “it is the Ukrainians who make the final decisions about their operations.”

In the meantime, research by the US news channel CNN and the New York Times (NYT) has leaked out what preceded the current decisions. In the summer there were joint staff exercises by the Ukrainian and US military. The US military analyzed Kiev’s counter-offensive plans and warned against their implementation. The Ukrainian President had already informed his generals in early summer that he wanted to show the world “with a dramatic step” that his country could push back the Russian invasion. He wanted to boost the morale of his fighters and show the West: Ukraine can win – it just needs more support from the West.

Under orders from the President, the Ukrainian General Staff drew up a plan for a broad attack in the south to retake Kherson and cut off Mariupol from Russian forces to the east.

This operation would have lacked momentum. The Ukrainian commanders suspected this. That’s why, high-ranking US officials told the NYT, they asked US and British intelligence officials for “advice.” “We did some modeling and exercises,” said Colin Kahl, the Biden administration’s undersecretary for defense policy. Analyzes had shown “that certain avenues for a counteroffensive would probably be more successful than others.”

Western secret services – the German Federal Intelligence Service is involved – helped to condense the situation reports. Not only did they identify important supply bases for Russian troops, they also found that Moscow was moving a large part of its strong fighting forces south. Based on cleverly launched information from Kyiv, Putin’s generals there expected a counterattack.

Kahl, too, is modest as a representative of a power not involved in the war. Only “advice” was given, which the Ukrainians then “internalized” in order to make “their own decisions.” Other high-ranking officials such as US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Chief of Staff Mark A. Milley were also said to be involved. In Kyiv, in addition to consultations with British experts, there were daily consultations between Ukrainian generals and the US defense attaché, Brigadier General Garrick Harmon. Together they narrowed down the operational goals, primarily targeting the east of Ukraine, discussing which forces and types of weapons are needed for which scenarios in order to achieve certain goals in different scenarios.

The fact that the multinational business games, which Pentagon spokesman Ryder wrote off as “routine military dialogue,” became public at all, certainly has a clear intention. They want to make it clear to the Russian attackers that they are now dealing with strategists with war experience and clever tacticians. So far, however, the Russian commander-in-chief Putin and his subordinate commanders have not drawn the desired conclusions from this signal.


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