Ukraine's counteroffensive is making incremental gains. Does it matter in the broader war?

Ukraine announced Wednesday that its marines had liberated and entrenched themselves in the village of Urozhaine, a little more than two weeks after recapturing the town of Staromaiorske on the opposite bank of the Mokri Yaly River near the Donetsk-Zaporizhia border in eastern Ukraine.

The recapture of Urozhiane "represents progress for a grueling counteroffensive in which the gains have been measured in meters rather than miles," CNN noted. It also means Ukraine "now holds positions on both banks of the river, opening up more options as its forces try to advance on Russian strongholds farther south" toward the Sea of Azov, furthering Kyiv's goal of severing Russia's "land bridge" to occupied Crimea, The New York Times reported.

But the slow progress, impeded by Russia's miles-deep minefields, has underscored doubts about the end results of Ukraine's counteroffensive. The U.S. intelligence community now "assesses that Ukraine's counteroffensive will fail to reach the key southeastern city of Melitopol" this year, a "grim assessment" of Kyiv's principal objective "based on Russia's brutal proficiency in defending occupied territory," The Washington Post reported.

"Russia has three main defensive lines there and then fortified cities after that," Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told the Post. "It's not just a question about whether Ukraine can breach one or two of them, but can they breach all three and have enough forces available after taking attrition to achieve something more significant."

Ukraine's recent advances near small settlements are "tactically significant because of the structure of Russian defensive lines," the Institute for the Study of War assessed Thursday. Ukraine appears to have advanced "past the densest minefields," and "if the areas around the second Russian line of defense are less heavily mined, then they would likely be more conducive to more rapid Ukrainian gains."

Russia's stretched forces "have dedicated significant effort, resources and personnel to hold settlements such as Robotyne and Urozhaine," ISW added. Their failure to keep those villages suggests Ukraine has significantly "degraded" Russian forces in the area, increasing opportunities for a breakthrough.

"The Russians are in pretty rough shape," Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Post. "They've suffered a huge amount of casualties. Their morale is not great." As for Ukraine, "I had said a couple of months ago that this offensive was going to be long, it's going to be bloody, it's going to be slow," he added. "And that's exactly what it is: long, bloody and slow, and it's a very, very difficult fight."

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