The ‘brain’ behind Ukraine’s sudden counterattack

General Oleksandr Syrsky proposed a plan to launch a surprise counterattack on Kharkov, which he saw as a weak link in the Russian line.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Army said earlier this week that the commanders involved in the design of the rapid counter-offensive operation in Kharkov province included the commander of the armed forces Valery Zaluzhny, the chief of staff Serhiy Shaptala, the commander of the regional defense line. East Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of the southern line of defense Andriy Kovalchuk and Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar.

However, experts and Ukrainian media said that the “chief architect” of the counter-attack was General Syrsky.

When the town of Batakliya in Kharkov was liberated in the middle of last week, Syrsky presided over the flag raising ceremony in front of the town hall, marking the completion of the task of controlling the positions of Russian forces in the area.

Less than five days later, President Volodymyr Zelensky was able to visit the strategic city of Izyum, the new frontline of the Ukrainian army after repelling Russian forces from the northeastern province. Syrsky was then the one who reported directly to the Supreme Commander-in-Chief Zelensky.

General Oleksandr Syrsky (left) reports to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the counter-offensive operation in Izyum on September 14.  Photo: AFP.

General Oleksandr Syrsky (left) reports to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the counter-offensive operation in Izyum on September 14. Image: AFP.

Syrsky, a 57-year-old army lieutenant general, was also the commander of the operation to defend the capital Kiev during the early stages of the war, when Russian forces managed to besiege Kiev for nearly two months. In April, after Russian forces withdrew from northern Kiev, he was awarded the title “Hero of Ukraine” by President Zelensky, in recognition of his merits in the battle to defend the capital.

He is considered a quiet person, preferring to read books rather than appear in front of the media, according to Washington Post. The army general also has many years of familiarization with Western military doctrine and NATO’s methods of operation over the past decade.

Syrsky entered the ranks of the leadership of the Ukrainian army in 2007, when he began serving as chief of staff and deputy commander of the General Command of the Armed Forces. In 2013, he was primarily responsible for defense cooperation with the West, reforming the Ukrainian army to NATO standards.

In 2014, when conflict broke out in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, Syrsky was assigned as deputy commander of the campaign against the separatists. He was directly involved in and commanded some of the toughest campaigns, before being appointed as campaign commander in 2017.

In 2019, in the midst of Ukraine’s military reform by Western standards, he became army chief.

With more than half a decade in the Eastern battlefield, Lieutenant General Syrsky was assigned in September to lead the counter-offensive operation in Kharkov. Observers say that the tip of the northeast Ukraine has come as a big surprise to the Russian military not only because of the months-long foggy attack on Kherson province in the south, but also because of its ability to keep the whole secret. incredible preparation and marching speed.

“Syrsky is the type of military officer with a long history of battle, who knows how to plan for every situation, including those that he himself considers unlikely,” the Washington Post editors wrote in the analysis. Battle in Kiev.

At a time when the Russia-Ukraine border tension escalated but did not reach the threshold of conflict, while many Ukrainian military leaders and Western military experts said that Russia would never send ground troops to Kiev, Syrsky had rush to prepare a plan to defend the capital.

General Oleksandr Syrsky (centre) visits a frontline base of the Ukrainian army in March. Photo: Reuters.

General Oleksandr Syrsky (centre) visits a frontline base of the Ukrainian army in March. Photo: Reuters.

He did this, although he himself thought at the time that the Russian army would focus on the east, the fighting would mainly take place on the line between the government troops and the separatists in the Donbass.

Orders to change the location of troops, move equipment and expensive weapons to a safe zone, divide the combat zone and establish two defensive perimeters in the capital Kiev were completed by Syrsky nearly a week ago. when fighting broke out at dawn on 24/2.

“We are military. No matter what forecast I personally believe, I still have an obligation to make preparations in accordance with the requirements of the leadership,” he said in an interview in June.

When drawing up the battle plan in the “third phase”, the period when Ukraine counter-attacked, it was Syrsky who raised the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčopening a flank attack on the Russian line in Kharkov. He made this proposal when he noticed the “fatal” weakness of the enemy in the town of Balakliya, an important bottleneck in the logistics network between Izyum and Kupyansk.

“His idea initially met with resistance from the General Staff, but he eventually successfully persuaded the military leadership to give the plan the green light,” said Ukrainian political analyst Aleksey Golobutskyi.

The town of Balakliya has been controlled by the Russian military since March 2, less than two weeks after the outbreak of hostilities. However, Syrsky considers this to be the weakest link in the Russian line, as they have moved most of their elite units south to protect Kherson.

According to the battle plan outlined by General Syrsky, Ukrainian forces quickly surrounded this town, allowing many other units to advance quickly towards the Oskil River, cutting the Russian army’s line in half.

There are three small bridges across the Oskil River in the area, but all are within range of Ukrainian artillery.

Russian forces were put in a standstill by the Oskil River and could not support the remaining strongholds. They lacked artillery and air support, were under constant pressure from enemy artillery fire, and had to eventually retreat on September 4 and 5.

The Ukrainian army began to encircle Balakliya the next day. In less than 4 days, they regained control of the town, and successfully recaptured Kupyansk.

More than a week from the day the Kharkov army was ordered to launch a counter-offensive, General Syrsky was present in the strategic city of Izyum to report on the progress and results of the operation to President Zelensky.

Observers said that with his vision and ability to maneuver troops, General Syrsky contributed significantly to the initial successes in the counter-offensive campaign. However, they also warn that this is not a turning point that can change the battlefield and Russia still holds many advantages in the east and south.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 16 announced that the military operation in Donbass continues, despite Ukraine’s counter-attack.

“Russia is advancing slowly, but systematically, and gradually controls more and more territory,” Putin said. “We’re not going to war with the entire army, we’re only sending a part there.”

The direction of the Ukrainian counterattack in the Kharkov province.  Graphics: WP.

The direction of the Ukrainian counterattack in the Kharkov province. Graphics: WP.

Name (Theo France 24, Economist, Kyiv Post)

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