EU gas, news about Putin and latest news about the war in Ukraine

Credit…Andrey Borodulin / Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The critical bridge has been shelled. A fighter jet fired from the sky. The ammunition depots have been destroyed. A group of soldiers attacked.

Ukraine’s intensifying attacks on Russian forces in just the past 48 hours in the Kherson region raise the question: is the ground being laid for a broad counter-offensive?

The southern city of Kherson was captured by Russian troops in early March, and now Moscow is trying to absorb this province. Kherson, a port and shipbuilding center, is also a base for Russian military operations in southern Ukraine.

This means that any attempt to retake the city will be of great strategic and symbolic importance to the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky. A counteroffensive would also signal a significant shift in the war, and timing is critical. A Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday that Russia plans to annex territories he captured, including Kherson.

“Ukraine and its Western partners may have a narrowing window of opportunity to support a Ukrainian counteroffensive into occupied Ukrainian territory before the Kremlin annexes that territory,” spokesman John Kirby said.

Since April, Ukrainian forces have been effectively blocked in a defensive position, gradually retreating from the onslaught of Russian artillery in the eastern region of Donbass. The Russians haven’t taken any new territory in weeks, and the Ukrainians say their defensive positions have stabilized.

But the purpose of the longer-range missile systems, promoted by Ukraine and increasingly supplied by Western countries to its government, is not only to prevent a Russian advance, but to reclaim lost territories.

“We are all striving to liberate Ukraine from the enemy,” Natalya Gumenyuk, spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern forces, said on Tuesday. “We have one goal.”

Ukraine used Artillery gun HIMARSrecently delivered by the United States to hit Antonovsky bridge in Kherson on Tuesday, said an adviser to the country’s interior minister. The bridge was the main transit route for Russian supplies from Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014. Eleven more missiles hit the bridge on Wednesday, according to the deputy head of the pro-Russian administration in Kherson.

A British intelligence report says the bridge is a “key vulnerability for Russian troops”.

The Ukrainian military also said on Wednesday it had blown up a Russian radar system in Kherson using missiles fired from more than 60 miles away — a day after Ukrainian air force command said it shot down a Russian fighter jet over farmland in Kherson. Depots critical to supplying Russian troops west of the Dnieper have been hit.

Ukrainian forces have also carried out strikes against a concentration of Russian troops, an adviser to the head of the province’s military administration said on Tuesday, adding that an estimate of casualties had not yet been completed.

These accounts could not be independently verified, although some of the attacks were filmed.

Ukrainian troops have been fighting since May. a series of skirmishes in the north of Kherson, retaking villages, striking railroad tracks and fighting for control of the roads. It is not yet clear whether these offensives were primarily intended to draw Moscow’s forces away from the larger battles in Donbas, or whether they were a prelude to a larger offensive in the region.

If Ukraine launches a wide-ranging counteroffensive, military analysts say it will force both sides to make difficult decisions. For Mr. Zelensky, this will test whether his forces can do more than hold their ground and whether his vow to regain the ground Russia has lost since 2014 is feasible.

The Russian military, on the other hand, will have to decide how deep they will go in defense of the territory, especially if the bridge is destroyed and resupplying attacked forces becomes more difficult.