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Russians Report Ukrainian Leopard 2 Tanks On The Move As Kyiv’s Brigades Attack All Along The Ukraine Front
Jun 5, 2023,01:53pm EDT
A Ukrainian 31st Mechanized Brigade gunner.UKRAINIAN ARMY PHOTO
Ukrainian and allied forces are on the move across a 700-mile front stretching from Kherson Oblast in southern Ukraine east to the Donbas region and north to the border region adjacent to Russia’s Belgorod Oblast.
Maybe this is the start of Ukraine’s long-anticipated 2023 counteroffensive. Maybe it’s just a bunch of simultaneous raids and probes. We probably won’t know for sure until we can assess the June 4 and 5 operations in hindsight, after the counteroffensive has succeeded … or failed.
It’s clear, however, that something is happening following weeks of relative calm that began when Russian and allied troops finally captured the lifeless ruins of the eastern city of Bakhmut. That “victory” cost the Russians thousands of men and helped to set the stage for small Ukrainian counterattacks along Bakhmut’s flanks.
But those counterattacks petered out after a few days. Both sides still bombarded the other with missiles and artillery on a daily basis, but otherwise a strange quiet settled over much of Ukraine—a quiet that deepened as Ukrainian forces dialed up their jamming of Russian communications. The world waited for the mechanized assault that should signal the start of the counteroffensive.
It may have kicked off on June 4 and June 5—exactly where many observers expected it would: near the border between Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts in southeastern Ukraine. Elements of the Ukrainian army’s 23rd and 31st Mechanized Brigades and potentially other units rolled south from Novodarivka and nearby Neskuchne and Vuhledar.
The 23rd and 31st are new brigades that the Ukrainian army formed this spring, specifically for the 2023 counteroffensive. But they’re equipped mostly with older, Soviet-style equipment including T-64BV tanks.
The Russians opened fire with artillery. Russian warplanes streaked in. Several of the Ukrainian brigades’ armored trucks got hit. The Kremlin immediately declared victory. “Russian artillery and aviation strikes neutralized the Ukrainian attacks,” state media crowed. “The enemy suffered significant losses in manpower and materiel.”
That was obvious propaganda. As June 5 wore on, it was clear the Ukrainians had opened a gap in a sector of the front near Novodonetske—a settlement that lies between Neskuchne and Vuhledar and which was defended by the Russian 71st Motor Rifle Regiment and 37th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade.
One video that circulated online depicted a pair of Ukrainian T-64BVs and what appears to be an anti-tank missile team engaging and defeating a trio of Russian tanks.
A Western official told The Economist the Ukrainians had advanced three miles, securing a lodgement into which they began to pour reinforcements. The T-64BV-equipped Ukrainian 3rd Tank Brigade was nearby, but reports of Leopard 2 tanks in the vicinity strongly implied other brigades were in the area, too. The elite 1st and 4th Tank Brigades, perhaps. Or the new 33rd Mechanized Brigade.
At the same time that Ukrainian mechanized forces were advancing south in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk, Ukrainian and allied troops engaged the Russians along other sectors. There were rumors of a Ukrainian raid near Kherson and another small-scale Ukrainian assault on the flanks of Bakhmut. Pro-Ukraine Russian volunteers launched another cross-border raid into Russia’s Belgorod Oblast and even captured a few Russian soldiers on Russian soil.
The fighting seemed to ebb as night fell on June 5. The coming of morning might reveal just how far the Ukrainians have marched near Novodonetske—and how many fresh forces they’ve staged for a possible continuation of Monday’s attack.
Mark Hertling, a retired U.S. Army general, urged caution. “Those breathless about reported Ukrainian movement today, it is an indicator of growing momentum,” Hertling tweeted. “But I’d recommend—in soldier-talk—take a knee and drink some water. Take a breath, it’s early.”