Who will Launch Next Ground Offensive in the War in Ukraine and When?

Key Points

The war in Ukraine is more of standoff attacks with hardly any major ground offensive in recent past.

While Russia can choose its moment for its offensive/counteroffensive, NATO will like to see Zelensky delivering ‘Bang for the Buck’, having met his 98 percent requirements of military hardware.


Despite Bakhmut facing one of the most intense battles, Russian claim of its siege and control and Ukraine’s assertion of pockets holding out, the war in Ukraine has seen more of standoff attacks by missiles, drones and artillery shelling, with hardly any major ground offensive in recent past. Russian cruise missile barrage and Ukrainian drone attack on Crimean Oil Depot are part of this design. Both Russia as well as US led NATO fighting proxy war through Ukraine, are feeling fatigue of war, but don’t find negotiation as an attractive enough option, due to unfinished agendas. 

While the kinetic, contact, hybrid war between Russia and Ukraine was heading towards stalemate with sporadic standoff strikes, offensive actions are happening in the US-led NATO’s undeclared, non-kinetic, non-contact war against Russia in the economic, information, diplomatic, and political spheres, such as renewed push of G7 for more sanctions (Hypocritically keeping nuclear fuel, fertilisers, critical minerals out of it), the threat to extend Black Sea grain deal beyond 18 May 23.  Efforts are on to keep NATO together amidst signs of internal frictions and mitigating impact of the Pentagon intelligence leaks, which took some steam away from much publicised propaganda of West lauding Ukraine’s capability to launch Spring Offensive to recapture entire lost territory, exposing some its glaring weaknesses. Under such circumstances it remains to be seen which side could launch next major ground offensive?

The Maximal of War in Ukraine

Certain stark realities decide the maximum limits of the war, which both sides are hesitating to accept. Firstly, Russia with largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles under Putin will not get annihilated/decisively defeated without using any of these major weapons. Secondly, US will not risk annihilation of Washington/New York to save Zelensky/Poland. Thirdly Russia will not be able to annihilate Ukraine supported by NATOs without a serious break down internally. Fourthly Europe will have to follow American dictat, as it knowingly fell prey to American design of cutting off its dependency on Russia and ignored its own security and Russian security concerns for too long.  Fifthly Ukraine can’t recapture entire lost territory without NATO getting fully involved, meaning Third World War and Nuclear ‘Armageddon’ Risk. The war is therefore likely to be prosecuted within these maximal limits.

NATO would like the war to be confined to Ukraine, for which it has little choice but to support it ‘for as long as it takes’. It can’t afford any spillover of war to any NATO country, which implies posing existential threat to Russia, forcing it to make the unpleasant decision of nuclear catastrophe or forcing USA to selectively shying away from NATO’s security obligations to affected member to save Washington and New York.  NATO therefore echoes that Putin must not win; hence, boosting Ukraine’s will to fight by creating a hope of winning an unwinnable war seems to be its effort with a willing Zelensky to do so. During NATO’s meet at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany besides discussing further assistance to Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg extended an olive branch to Ukraine by reaffirming that Kyiv will eventually join NATO, as Zelensky reiterated his demand of fast-tracked admission into NATO of Ukraine, fully knowing that it’s a dream with many practical difficulties.

Possibilities of Ukraine’s Spring Offensive

While the Russians are downplaying the drone attack in Crimea having put oil depot on fire, by announcing no casualties, Ukrainians without owning it publicly, have hailed long lasting punishments to Russians for cruise missile strikes claiming 25 lives, going ahead advising civilians in Crimea to remain away from military installations, indicating an offensive design. 

NATO claims to have met 98 percent of Ukraine’s need to launch counteroffensive, provided 1,550 armoured vehicles and 230 tanks to form units, trained and equipped more than nine new Ukrainian armoured brigades. Some aircrafts, anti-aircraft weapons & systems, and ammunition has been given by NATO allies. NATO’s Secretary General asserted that it will put Ukraine in a strong position to continue to retake occupied territory, thereby encouraging it to launch offensive, although Zelensky’s wish list demands better air defence and aircrafts. 

Notwithstanding boost in military arsenal, professionals know that collection of hardware doesn’t necessarily means a battle winning force! During Ukraine Defense Contact Group Meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, General Mark Milley remarks indicate that additional weapons issued by NATO can help Ukraine defend itself longer, but it’s not a silver bullet to defeat Russia. Speaking aside Lloyd Austin, it’s not the first time he has cautioned NATO to be realistic on its expectations; hence, his words need serious consideration.

President Zelensky, has been primed to believe in the mission’s (counteroffensive’s) success and that “we will be able to de-occupy our territories.” With the cumulative aid over $100 billion poured into Ukraine Zelensky has no choice, but to continue fighting, as any compromise will jeopardize his survival; hence he is overly obligated to carry out Washington’s plan into action of prolonging the conflict, short of pushing them into nuclear war or inviting attack on NATO, till last Ukrainian standing, despite having displaced more than 6 million people internally, sent nearly 8 million refugees outside, suffering significant casualties and having destroyed half of its infrastructure.

Will Russia Launch Major Offensive?

Russia still finds itself well short of achieving its overall strategic aim of annexing entire Donbass Region, capturing entire southern corridor to link it to Crimea and extend it to Transnistria to ultimately landlock Ukraine to secure Black Sea for its maritime movements. With heavy burden of economic cost and casualties, Russia is struggling with its desired end state for conflict termination. Currently Russians residual combat capability is quite limited to make significant gains in any ground offensive towards its strategic aim. It has adopted to standoff attack options to minimize casualties of men and material. It needs time to build its combat power to regain initiative.

It makes strategic sense for Russia, to consolidate occupied territories, create viable defence line and rebuild its economy and hardware to add to overall combat capability. Russia has already built up multiple layers of defense as seen in many satellite imageries, in parts of Donbass and southern Ukraine like layers of anti-tank ditches, obstacles, minefields and trenches. The superiority in air assets with Russia is also a significant factor.

Ukraine appreciates that Moscow wants “to bleed Ukraine dry through the risk of the war’s renewal that would scare off investors and prompt people to flee and then to attack again” which may well be true. Russia will therefore rely on standoff attacks to destroy maximum newly inducted arsenal to Ukraine and its critical infrastructure, instead of hard slogging ground offensive, unless inescapable. Preparation of absorbing the attack and responding with a strong counter offensive may be part of the plan, should Ukraine take the initiative of launching offensive. The option to use nuclear weapons, in case of existential threat will continue to be a powerful tool to prevent NATO entering into contact war with Russia in future too.


While Russia can choose its time and place for its offensive/counteroffensive, Ukraine is under pressure to launch its overhyped Spring Offensive. NATO will like to see Zelensky delivering ‘Bang for the Buck’, having met his 98 percent requirements of military hardware, and shaping the battlefield accordingly. It is interesting to note that Arms dealers of US, working like deep state will continue pushing US administration to continue with war, who in turn will push NATO & Ukraine to continue till last Ukrainian standing. 

Pentagon knows that ultimately Ukraine will have to make some compromises to its territorial integrity, as it’s not possible to fully evict Russians from there. However, Russia winning additional 15 percent of Ukraine after Crimea, is an unpalatable pill for  NATO, which can encourage Russia to grab more in future; hence it would like to give offensive a chance with willing Zelensky, overhyped to show Russians their weakness, more so when NATO carries no burden of body bags. President Zelensky has no choice but to continue the war, with western propaganda depicting him as the undisputed winner, overplaying poor morale of Russian military, having shaped the battlefield accordingly.

Apparently, Ukraine may be pushed into offensive soon and Russia and Ukraine will see some more destruction before coming to terms with reality of changed territorial alignment, after delaying it as long as it takes!

Gen. Shashi Asthana
Gen. Shashi Asthana
The author is a veteran Infantry General with 40 years experience in international fields and UN. A globally acknowledged strategic & military writer/analyst; he is currently the Chief Instructor of USI of India, the oldest Indian Think-tank in India.