Ukraine hopes that its counteroffensive will end this stalemate. Western allies have supplied the Ukrainian military with billions of dollars of equipment and trained its troops at camps in Germany over the past few months. The troops have learned a technique known as combined-arms warfare, in which different parts of the military work together to take territory. Tanks punch through enemy lines by rolling over trenches, for example, and infantry then spread out to hold the area.
“The counteroffensive will very likely start in multiple places, maybe in the south and the east,” Julian said. “Some of those will be feints. Some will be part of the main efforts.”
Ukraine still has fewer troops and less equipment than Russia, but Ukraine’s military has so far proven more effective — with better morale, smarter tactics and more advanced Western weapons — than Russia’s. The counteroffensive is effectively a bet that Ukraine can use those advantages not just to repel Russia but to retake large territories.
As Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a Ukraine correspondent, said, “If Ukraine manages to sever the land bridge, Russian troops will be under further strain and, more importantly, Ukraine will be in a better position to attack farther east and south, toward Crimea.”
Most experts do not believe Ukraine will retake Crimea anytime soon — or that this war will end with Crimea back under Ukrainian control. Still, Ukraine does not need that outcome for the counteroffensive to be a success. Any major progress could cause Putin and his aides to worry that a long war would bring further losses and eventually put Crimea at risk. “The Russian people do care about Crimea,” my colleague Helene Cooper said. Before the Soviet era, the region was part of Russia for decades.