When the Biden administration announced a new military aid package for Ukraine this week, the highlight was additional shipments of long-range, mobile rocket launchers capable of striking targets deep behind enemy lines.
But the list also included some high-tech military equipment that could prove crucial to any attempt to recapture the southern city of Kherson: 18 boats.
Control of waterways is critical to a counteroffensive in the Kherson region, which is divided by the Dnieper, a river that runs across the country in a giant S-curve from Belarus’s border to the Black Sea.
Ukrainian forces this week attacked the Antonievsky Bridge across the river using long-range missiles in an attempt to prevent Moscow from resupplying its forces in the city of Kherson from its bases further south in the Crimea region. The strikes caused damage, and while the bridge appeared passable, the attack proved difficult to defend, according to a video released by a senior Ukrainian official.
“Things can happen,” an adviser to Ukrainian President Anton Zherashchenko said in a post on Twitter. He said the attacks were carried out by high mobility artillery rocket systems Himars, Weapons provided by the Biden administration are included in the new aid package. Yuriy Sobolevsky, a Ukrainian official in the Kherson regional administration, said Friday that Russian forces are now planning to build a pontoon bridge across the river in the wake of the attack.
Almost all of the territory Russia has seized in Ukraine since February is east of the Dnieper, but Kherson, a port and shipbuilding center on the west bank, remains vulnerable. The city fell to Moscow in March because, in an act considered treacherous by some Ukrainians, local authorities did not follow through on plans to blow up the bridge, allowing Russian soldiers to enter the city.
“If the Ukrainians damage or close it, it will weaken the Russian defense position and make Kherson more and more difficult to deliver,” said Ben Barry, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Strategic Studies, a research group. Based in London.
“Aircraft can be transported by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft, but these are more vulnerable to Ukrainian anti-aircraft missiles and more expensive in terms of fuel,” Mr. Barry said.
Ukraine’s biggest battles, the fight for the capital Kiev and the campaign in the eastern Donbass region, have taken place on land, but control of water remains the main arena of conflict. Russia’s navy has dominated the Black Sea since 2014, threatening the city of Odessa and blocking Ukraine. Grain export and other items.
US-supplied missiles sank the pride of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in April, and they have also helped Ukraine. Recapture of Snake Island, in Odessa Beach, last month. Both actions pushed back Russia’s naval supremacy.
Last month, the Biden administration said it would provide Ukraine with 18 patrol boats to protect its rivers and coastal waters. These could help Ukrainian forces cross the river, Mr. Barry said – it’s a subtle trick. Russia suffered one of its most painful defeats in May The battalion was destroyed Attempts were made to cross the river in the Donbas region, which is much narrower than the Dnipro.
In a speech overnight, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “There is considerable potential for the advancement of our forces at the front.” He did not elaborate on where those gains might come, but neutralization of the Gerson Bridge appears to be a prerequisite in the south.
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