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Business News/ Politics / Ukraine Runs Into Russian Air Superiority

Ukraine Runs Into Russian Air Superiority


Minefields have strengthened Russian defenses as Kyiv presses its counteroffensive

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 68th Oleksa Dovbush hunting brigade, rides an armoured vehicle during patrol in the recently retaken village of Blahodatne, Ukraine, Saturday, June 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) (AP)Premium
A Ukrainian serviceman of the 68th Oleksa Dovbush hunting brigade, rides an armoured vehicle during patrol in the recently retaken village of Blahodatne, Ukraine, Saturday, June 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) (AP)

Ukraine said its forces were advancing on several axes in their counteroffensive but were struggling to counter Russian air and artillery superiority hobbling its assaults in the east and south.

Now into its second week, Ukraine’s ambitious attempt to take back Russian-occupied land is proving to be a hard slog against dense minefields and well-prepared defenses. After Ukraine’s first probing attacks yielded mixed results, its forces have mostly paused their advances in recent days as commanders take stock of the past two weeks and analyze ways to punch through Russian lines without taking huge losses.

Russia has taken advantage of its superior air power and Kyiv’s limited air defenses to strike Ukrainian armored columns and stop several attacks, destroying some of the sophisticated Western weaponry Ukraine is fielding.

The U.K.’s Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing on Saturday that Russia had bolstered its force of attack helicopters in occupied Berdyansk, some 60 miles behind the front line in Ukraine’s south, with more than 20 additional helicopters deployed there.

The move further strengthens Russian air-power potential in the region. Helicopters have successfully fired long-range missiles against Ukrainian ground targets that have had little protection from air-defense systems, the British Defense Ministry said. “In the constant contest between aviation measures and counter-measures, it is likely that Russia has gained a temporary advantage in southern Ukraine," it said in a post to Twitter.

But Ukrainian officials have struck an upbeat tone in the face of the challenges, saying that their forces have moved forward in a number of areas despite not yet posing a direct threat to Russia’s main defensive lines, built up over months in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

“Ukraine is seizing the initiative. Russia is on the defensive," Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Volodymyr Havrylov said on Saturday, though he said Kyiv urgently needed long-range artillery capable of striking targets far behind the front line and disabling Russian ammunition and logistics hubs.

In the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian forces have been advancing on the flanks around Bakhmut, the city Russia recently captured after many months of brutal combat. Hanna Malyar, another Ukrainian deputy defense minister, said the intensity of fighting around Bakhmut had lessened and acknowledged that Russia had the upper hand in terms of aviation and artillery forces.

But Malyar said Ukraine was pressing ahead in its campaign to encircle Russian forces around the city, seeking to take up positions overlooking Bakhmut from which it could strike Russian units. Russia is reinforcing its presence around the city, Malyar said, moving troops there from other areas while also bolstering units defending parts of the south.

“Our forces are on the offensive in several areas, occupying dominant positions and forested areas with a view to gradually push the enemy out of the approaches into Bakhmut," Malyar said late on Friday.

Meanwhile, Russia has continued drone and missile strikes against Ukrainian cities as it seeks to deplete their stocks of expensive air-defense munitions and keep such systems deployed away from the eastern front line. Ten Ukrainian regions were attacked in the 24 hours leading into Saturday morning, according to reports from local authorities compiled by Ukrainska Pravda, Ukraine’s leading news outlet.

Oleh Synehubov, the governor of Kharkiv region in northeast Ukraine, said on Saturday that four people were killed when an antitank rocket struck a vehicle in a village near the Russian border.


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