Risk of more attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine

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Fact: The counter-offensive is called historic

Towards the end of the summer, Ukraine was said to be preparing for a counter-offensive in the Kherson region in the south, by partly advancing the positions in surrounding areas, partly by bombing strategic targets such as bridges to make it difficult for Russian forces to get supplies.

In connection with this, Russia is assumed to have moved forces from the occupied areas in the north-east and east of Ukraine to strengthen the defenses in the south.

At the beginning of September, Ukraine was judged to have achieved several tactical successes in the area. At the same time, several signs began to emerge that Ukraine was launching a counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region, in northeastern Ukraine, where Russian defense lines are believed to have been weakened by the offensive in the south.

In just a few days, Ukrainian forces managed to recapture virtually all parts of Kharkiv that had been under Russian control since last spring.

Right now, developments in Ukraine are in favor of the Ukrainian side.

In the Kharkiv region, the site of the Ukrainian counter-offensive which is already being called historic, the Ukrainians continue to advance, albeit at a slower pace than a couple of weeks ago.

Exactly what is happening at the front line – or where it is at the moment – is, however, more unclear. In recent days, there have been unconfirmed reports that the Ukrainian forces have reached the strategically important city of Lysytyansk in the Luhansk region.

“In any case, it indicates that the Ukrainians got relatively far into the Donbass, and have the Russian troops under pressure there,” says Joakim Paasikivi, who also teaches military strategy at the Norwegian Defense Academy.

Whoever controls the city gains a favorable position for future battles and the ability to cut off the opposing side’s maintenance line.

Areas under Russian control/areas with Russian military presence and Ukrainian counter-offensive, September 18. Incitement against civilian targets

In the Kherson region in the southern parts of the country, the Ukrainians continue to slowly push the Russians down towards the Dnipro river. Russia is said to be leaving some towns in the area to bolster front-line defenses, but is still having trouble getting maintenance across the severed bridges.

However, Ukraine’s successes are raising fears that Russia will attack more civilian targets. According to Britain’s Ministry of Defence, over the past week Russia has increasingly targeted civilian infrastructure for its long-range drones, “even when it is unlikely to produce any immediate military effect”. According to the British, the aim is probably to reduce the Ukrainian willingness to fight, both among the people and in the government.

Joakim Paasikivi also believes that the risk of Russia striking targets such as cities and power plants may increase with Ukraine’s advances.

— It is a trend that is loudly talked about in Russian propaganda television. If things go badly in the war, those who incite the most want you to strike harder – then really only civilian targets remain.

Tearing up the city

In the town of Bachmut, located in the northern part of the Donetsk region in the east, fierce fighting has been ongoing for several weeks. It is one of the few areas where Russian forces can still go on the offensive, unlike in Kharkiv and Kherson where they are forced to take a parrying position against the Ukrainian counter-offensive. There, the Russian method is clearly visible:

“They basically push the whole city away,” says Paasikivi.

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