Ukraine opens a new flank at the mouth of the Dnieper to sneak into the Russian rear | International
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Ukraine believes it has found the Achilles heel of Russian defenses on the Dnieper River. This weak point is the Kinburn Peninsula, an enclave of high ecological value in the estuary formed by the Dnieper and the Bug River on the Black Sea coast. In times of peace it was a destination appreciated by lovers of ecotourism; in times of war it is a land occupied by Russia and the scene of a campaign of fleeting Ukrainian attacks that experts see as a new chapter in the conflict: that of the river guerrillas.
Russia pushed back to the eastern bank of the Dnieper last week, abandoning the western side of the river in Kherson province and fortifying its defensive positions by more than 100 kilometers. The Southern High Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces insists that it intends to continue with the offensive until it lands its troops on the Dnieper, although this will be when they have sufficient units, equipment and artillery power, as indicated two weeks ago by General Dmitro Marchenko to the BBC.
The military and analysts consulted by EL PAÍS warn that it will take months for the conditions of a large-scale landing on the Dnieper to be optimal for Ukraine. Thibault Fouillet, a French soldier and expert from the Foundation for Strategic Defense, confirms that it would be the most difficult operation so far in the war: “Three or four months ago I would not even have considered the feasibility of something like this, but now I can’t.” rule out, it will depend on whether the Russians hold the positions in front of the river”.
The intelligence services of Ukraine and of allied countries such as the United Kingdom have insisted in recent weeks that the morale of the invading troops is low. Last week, a video of a unit located south of the city of Kherson was broadcast on pro-Russian Telegram accounts denouncing that they had been forced to abandon their positions due to the lack of the necessary weapons to protect them from Ukrainian artillery. The location of these soldiers, not specified, was close to the Dnieper delta, near the estuary that it forms with another mouth, that of the Bug. In this area, the Russian fortifications do not have the magnitude that they have built in the stretch of the river that goes from the city of Kherson and towards the north, to the province of Zaporizhia. The Southern High Command published on November 18 images of a Russian barracks in Kinburn destroyed by Ukrainian shells.
Nature is the best Russian defense on the last stretch of the Dnieper. The river has a width in this area that reaches eight kilometers, if the swampy waters on its banks are taken into account. The shortest access point between the two shores is Cape Kinburn, a narrow neck of land in the eastern part, 3.5 kilometers from the western part, of the Ochakiv municipality, under Ukrainian sovereignty. “This large territory, dominated by lush vegetation and lagoons, has low accessibility for transportation and has not been fully controlled by either side,” Rybar, one of the nearby war analysis groups, said on November 15. to Russia.
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Rybar says that landing attempts by small Ukrainian reconnaissance groups have been repeated since spring. These operations had not been publicized by the Ukrainian authorities, until now. Following the liberation of the city of Kherson, Ukrainian military accounts, including the Ministry of Defense, have posted videos of marine units sailing on speedboats on the Dnieper on social media. The General Staff reported that on the 15th it had fired more than 50 artillery shells at the Russian defenses at Kinburn. The previous morning, the Russian military administration reported having frustrated the landing of special teams from the 73rd battalion of Ukrainian marines.
The Mikolaiv regional government confirmed that that morning, the Ochakiv demarcation had been bombarded by Moscow with unusual intensity. Ochakiv is the coastal town in front of Cape Kinburn and from where the Ukrainian boats set sail. The Ukrainian High Command in Mikolaiv denied access to EL PAÍS to Ochakiv, alleging that there are military operations underway.
a lot of money and a lot of time
French General Jérôme Pellistrandi highlighted in an interview with this newspaper that the terrain in Kinburn is not conducive to landings with armored amphibious vehicles, nor for large numbers of troops or for the movement of heavy artillery. “It’s interesting for special forces operations, for small groups that strike with river guerrilla tactics,” says Pellistrandi. This military man, a regular analyst of the war in the French media, adds that Ukraine is far from having a fleet of boats for a large-scale landing: “This costs a lot of money and a lot of time.”
Mike Martin, a researcher at King’s College London’s Center for War Studies, wrote last week on Twitter that Ukraine is most likely launching a diversionary operation in Kinburn for Russia to reduce its defenses on the Dnieper front in Zaporizhia. Robin Häggblom, an analyst at the Finnish defense consultancy Corporal Frisk, published a report on November 14 in which he also concluded that the Ukrainian forces seek to open a new flank for the enemy, and without the need to move their artillery, which can act from the other shore: “If the Ukrainian light infantry starts to act from Kinburn, in the Russian rear, Russia will have to act. Is this, perhaps, the logic, if Russia transfers units to the gulf [de Kinburn]it will have to leave other more unprotected areas”.
From the Russian side they see the situation in the same way, according to the information shared by Rybar: “The Ukrainian command will most likely focus its efforts not on the physical seizure of the Kinburn peninsula, but on increasing the action of its groups of saboteurs. The objective is to force the reaction of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in the area, to interrupt the supply for their fortifications and to create the conditions for deeper attacks on Russian territory.”
But Kinburn has a strategic value that goes beyond the recapture of the areas occupied by Russia. Fouillet points out that if Russia ever has the option of crossing back into western Ukraine, the estuary could be key to supporting her fleet in the Black Sea. Alexei Kondratiev, commander of Russia’s Don Cossack brigade, noted in an interview in October that Kinburn is important to Moscow because it is its westernmost position in Ukraine, just 32 nautical miles (59.2 kilometers) from Odessa. From there, bomb drones have been launched against southern cities of the invaded country. But for Ukraine it is even more essential to eliminate the enemy in Kinburn because river traffic is controlled from there along the Bug River, which connects Mikolaiv to the sea.
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