Ukraine’s Swedish-made CV90 infantry fighting vehicles—37 tons of armor with a 40-millimeter autocannon like a chainsaw—are inching toward the front line in eastern Ukraine.
What happens next could shape the next phase of Ukraine’s month-old counteroffensive.
The three-crew IFVs, each with space for six infantry, apparently belong to the 21st Mechanized Brigade, one of Ukraine’s newest brigades. The unit just this week apparently fired one of its first shots in anger—targeting a Russian vehicle near Kreminna, in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast.
The CV90s don’t yet appear to be in significant direct contact with Russian troops, although the Russians a few days ago circulated a drone video depicting a CV90 speeding along a road and into a Ukrainian staging area in a tree line. An artillery round strikes the position, igniting a fire on a Ukrainian vehicle—although it’s not clear the burning vehicle is a CV90.
Likewise, a Ukrainian CV90 crew on Friday posted a video documenting its brief visit to an old war monument on the Ukrainian side of the front line near Kreminna—the rusting hulk of a Russian T-90M tank that Ukrainian forces knocked out last year.
The wrecked T-90M is a veritable signpost, marking the 21st Brigade’s deployment closer and closer to the line of contact in the forests and fields west of Kreminna. It’s exactly the right sector for the newly-formed brigade, which we can assume operates all 50 CV90s that Stockholm pledged to the Ukrainian war effort. The CV90 with its rapid-fire cannon is an excellent forest fighter.
The growing concentration of fresh Ukrainian forces outside Kreminna could signal an imminent expansion of Kyiv’s long-anticipated 2023 counteroffensive, which launched on June 4 with nearly simultaneous Ukrainian attacks along several axes in southern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk Oblasts.
A second Ukrainian effort soon began around the ruins of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. The Russian army and its mercenary allies starting last summer expended much of their remaining offensive combat power dislodging Ukrainian brigades from Bakhmut, ultimately capturing the ruins in May.
It all was part of a plan. Exhausted from the Bakhmut fight and justifiably worried about their disposition in the south, the Russians had no choice but to shift to a defensive posture in and around Bakhmut. And a month later, Ukrainian forces counterattacked north and south of the city, seizing the initiative.
Kyiv’s forces made an important breakthrough south of Bahkmut in the last week of June, when the new 3rd Assault Brigade ejected Russian troops from their trenches along the Donbas Canal that threads north to south just west of Bakhmut and anchors Russia’s defenses in the area.
A similar push could begin soon around Kreminna. Each new counterattack the Ukrainians can sustain has the potential to support the others. With few forces in reserve, the Kremlin must make hard choices.
Does it reinforce the southern front in order to slow the Ukrainian counteroffensive there, or instead bolster defenses around Bakhmut in order to keep the destroyed city in Russian hands? If the Ukrainians attack toward Kreminna, can Moscow shift forces north without depleting the defensive positions elsewhere?
As long as Kyiv has well-equipped brigades in reserve, it has more options than Moscow does. Its troops can probe along several axes, observing the Russians’ reactions until it’s apparent which axis represents the best opportunity for a major breakthrough.
The 21st Mechanized Brigade with its CV90s was one of those in-reserve brigades until it began moving toward the front in recent days. In committing the unit and its powerful vehicles to the fight, Ukrainian planners could achieve one of several things.
They could draw Russian troops north and ease the way for Ukrainian brigades advancing in the south and around Bakhmut. Or, if the Russians decline to redeploy significant forces, the 21st Brigade might discover that the Kreminna axis itself is ripe for a breakthrough.