Retired Gen. David Petraeus.
Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit
Ukraine’s arduous counteroffensive is “far from over,” General David Petraeus has said.
Even the US military would struggle to face the extensive defenses Russia has mounted, he said.
Nonetheless, with enough pressure the Russian line can “suddenly break,” he wrote.
As Ukraine struggles to make substantial gains in its counteroffensive, General David Petraeus says that Russia’s front line may yet falter under pressure.
The former top general and CIA director brought his experience in Iraq to the picture as he laid out why he believes Ukraine can still push through Russia’s formidable defenses.
“I’m guardedly optimistic, with qualifications,” he told CNN. Ukraine can potentially “crack the line in a couple of places,” he said, adding that the fate of the battle will then depend on the Russian reaction.
In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, written jointly with the military scholar Frederick Kagan, he urged patience with Ukraine’s effort, saying that it was only in its early stages.
The push might be 10 weeks old — with only modest gains so far — but it’s likely to continue at least four months, they wrote.
“Defenders can hold for a long time and then suddenly break, allowing an attacker to make rapid gains before the defense solidifies further to the rear,” they wrote.
“The Ukrainians aim to generate exactly this effect — and there is reason to think they can.”
Members of the SPG-9 anti tank recoilless gun crew fire the gun onto Russian positions near the occupied Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on August 14, 2023 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.
Roman Chop/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images
Holding them back is a formidable network of minefields, trenches and anti-tank “dragon’s teeth” that stretch the 600-mile length of the front line. Faced with this, even the US would struggle, Petraeus told CNN.
“The truth is, we could not have done this,” he said. The only times the US has faced similar situations was in Iraq, he said.
But then the US had huge advantages in its air force — boasting total air superiority — and its vast numbers of personnel, heavy armor, and breaching devices.
Ukraine “has adapted very impressively” to the situation, he told CNN. To describe its tactic, he and Kagan cited Admiral Tony Radakin, the head of the British military, who called it “starve, stretch and strike.”
“Ukraine is applying pressure on their opponent until something breaks, at which point they will commit their reserves and strike,” Petraeus and Kagan wrote.
According to multiple reports, Ukraine had to switch tactics earlier in the push after losing multiple heavy armored vehicles. Now, it appears they are turning to artillery to pummel Russian forces before heading through on foot.
“When the conditions are right, they’re picking their way through these minefields now,” Petraeus told CNN. “They can’t mount combined arms through these, and they’re starting to achieve small but significant advances in at least two areas.”
Ukraine’s 82nd Air Assault Brigade.
Facebook/82nd Air Assault Brigade
Those areas, in the Zaporizhzhia region, include Robotyne where Ukraine’s elite 82nd Air Assault Brigade has recently been deployed. Ukrainian forces have also retaken some ground in the outskirts of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which Ukraine ceded to Russia in May after a grinding, bloody defense.
The assessment comes against a backdrop of growing worries in the media and among lawmakers who have questioned US military aid to Ukraine.
In mid-August The Washington Post cited anonymous members of the intelligence community casting doubt on Ukraine’s effort, predicting it will not achieve its goal of retaking the crucial city of Melitopol.
Insider was unable to independently verify that. Security expert Patrick Bury told Insider that he shared the same outlook, however, saying that the chances of a “knockout blow” are decreasing as time passes.