Ukraine’s counter-offensive is speeding up
To read more of The Economists data journalism visit our Graphic detail page. UKRAINES COUNTER-OFFENSIVE, which began in earnest on June 4th, has not lived up to the heightened expectations it inspired. It is happening probably slower than how some people may want or can see it, said Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraines president, in early August. Only small territorial gains have been tallied so far. And yet, almost three months in, there are signs that things could be speeding up. John Kirby, the White Houses national security spokesman, said on September 1st that there had been notable progress since August 29th and that Ukraine had achieved some success against Russias second line of defences. Since June 5th Ukraine has reclaimed 108 square kilometres of occupied territory, according to maps from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an American think-tank. (More territory has changed hands, as Russia has gained in places, too.) But 38 sq km of that has been secured by Ukrainian troops since August 22nd alone. That is a tiny percentage of the more than 100,000 sq km that remains in Russian hands. But the acceleration offers hope. So does recent news from the southern front. The thrust of Ukraines attack now appears to be focused south of the city of Zaporizhia. On August 28th, after a gruelling three-month slog on multiple fronts, Ukrainian forces liberated Robotyne, a village of some 500 people along the main axis of attack. Robotyne is hardly a grand prize itself. But its capture means that Ukrainian troops have at last reached the so-called Surovikin line, the main Russian line of fortifications in the area. Russia has concentrated its resources on this first line of defence (see map). That could put the Ukrainians on the verge of a breakthrough: beyond this point Russias defences are shallower, and its reservesthey hopethinner. What explains the recent gains? New gear, in part. Ukraines allies have donated weapons such as Excalibur, Storm Shadow and DPICM cluster munitions. These have slowly degraded Russian forces, making it possible for Ukrainian forces to advance. New mine-clearing equipment has made a slow and dangerous task slightly less so. And Ukraine has stepped up its drone warfare, hitting targets deep behind Russian defensive lines in Ukraine and in Russia itself. Some, such as Moscows central financial district, had little military value. But attacks on command-and-control centres, aircraft and logistic hubs may have reduced Russias ability to fight or reinforce its troops. Especially so from around mid-June onwards, when the Ukrainian command decided to prioritise striking such positions with its high-precision weapons. Ukraine has also committed some of its reserves to the fight. This includes its 10th Corps, and more recently, the 82nd Air Assault Brigade. Such commitments do, however, involve a trade-off: feeling more at ease elsewhere, Russia has committed more of its reserves to the fight, too, including the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, which is seen as among its best remaining units. There are signs of a significant increase in Ukraines bombardment of Russian forces, starting in early August (see chart). Our tracker of war activity, which updates daily using satellite data, suggests that the number of war-related fires in Russian-held areas is higher than at any time since the conflict began. (Abnormally hot and dry vegetation is surely also playing a part.) A similar, if smaller ramp-up, took place before a counter-offensive last autumn, which resulted in the liberation of Kherson. Though the tracker also observed an increase in such fires before the current offensive started in June, which resulted in limited immediate gains. The latest push required Ukraine to commit equipment, men and munitions. Whether they can make a rapid advance now will depend on whether they have enough left of all three to exploit it. If so, a slow slog may give way to a sudden surge.