Ukraine war: Is there a stalemate - or is this the lull before the storm?

·3-min read

It might seem like the war in Ukraine is slipping from the radar of the world's media, implying it has reached stalemate and ground to a halt. But behind the headlines, both sides are extremely active.

Russia's "early" spring offensive - designed to pre-empt Ukraine's own Western-supported offensive - has rapidly run out of steam, and by any military metric has been an abject failure.

Putin judged that by throwing overwhelming force at the battle-weary Ukrainian defences but instead, has taken huge casualties and left his deployed military forces vulnerable.

Now is the time for Ukraine to take full advantage of Russian exhaustion and, arguably, the stage is set for a potentially decisive phase of the war.

Away from the headlines, Russian forces - predominantly Wagner Group - continue to make slow progress in Bakhmut with a grinding war of attrition.

The fall of Bakhmut looks increasingly inevitable - it has been reported Russian forces now control over 85% of the city - but Ukraine has forced them to pay a very high price for every inch of progress.

Moscow remains focused on securing the Donbas and to the north in Luhansk, forces have not conducted offensive operations in many sectors "for some time" and appear to be consolidating their positions.

At the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, they are establishing sandbag fighting positions on the roofs of several of the six reactor buildings.

Such moves dramatically increase the chances of damage to the plant's safety systems than if fighting takes place around the site, although catastrophic damage to the reactors is unlikely because the structures are very heavily reinforced.

Russia has also developed extensive linear defences in the Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine and has now completed three layers of defensive zones across approximately 120 kilometres of the region, with trenches visible from space.

Extensive use of Dragon's Teeth - square-pyramidal anti-tank obstacles of reinforced concrete first used during World War Two to impede the movement of tanks and mechanised infantry - completes the defensive lines.

Meanwhile, satellite imagery indicates that Russian forces have transferred armoured vehicles and artillery systems from occupied Crimea to the frontline this past week.

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The Ukrainians have also been busy.

Around Kherson, there are increasing reports of several Ukrainian beachheads on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.

This, together with an increased tempo of precision artillery strikes against Russian resupply and logistics hubs, is a clear indication that the early stages of Ukraine's own offensive phase are already under way.

Western main battle tanks - Leopard 2, Challenge 2 and Abrams - continue to flow into Ukraine to be matched to trained Ukrainian crews, with NATO recently stating that "more than 98% of the combat vehicles promised to Ukraine have been delivered."

In addition, 14,000 Ukrainian troops have so far returned to defend their homeland after receiving training in the UK, and tens of thousands more have been trained by other Western nations.

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These are not the actions of a war at stalemate. Both sides are preparing for the next round of brutal warfare.

Whatever the outcome on the battlefield, and wherever the frontline gets relocated, the casualties and devastation will escalate.

Eventually, this will stop, but notwithstanding the apparent lull in the fighting, a storm is coming.