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There is a "realistic possibility" that Ukrainian forces can break through the remaining Russian defensive lines on the southern front by the end of 2023, Trent Maul, the director of analysis of the U.S.' Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), said in an interview with The Economist on Sept. 6.
Ukraine's forces pierced through the first of three Russian defensive lines near the village of Robotyne and are attacking the second line, with notable success, the official of the Pentagon's intelligence agency said.
"Had we had this conversation two weeks ago, I would have been slightly more pessimistic," Maul told The Economist.
"Their (Ukraine's) breakthrough on that second defensive belt…is actually pretty considerable."
However, the future progress will depend on Ukraine's supply of artillery and on the weather conditions during the fall, he added.
Ukrainian General Oleksandr Tarnavsky told the Guardian that Russian forces devoted 80% of their time and resources to building the first and second defensive lines on the southern front. Maul nevertheless warned that the bulk of Russian forces remained at the third line.
According to an unnamed U.S. official cited by The Economist, Ukraine has around six to seven weeks of combat left before its counteroffensive culminates. Disagreements on Kyiv's chances continue in Washington, with some predicting that the campaign will be hampered by the heavy casualties Ukrainian forces have sustained, the outlet reported.
Maul however reminded that Russian General Sergei Surovikin, who oversaw the construction of the defensive lines, has been sacked, and Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group was responsible for the main Russian successes on the battlefield, died in a plane crash.
The DIA official noted that Ukraine's recent progress was "significant," giving it a "realistic possibility" to break through the second and third line in 2023. The Economist commented that the term "realistic possibility" usually translates in the U.S. intelligence circles as 40-50% probability of success.
Ukraine's counteroffensive has been ongoing in the country's south and east since June. While Western observers have noted the relatively slow progress of the campaign, Ukrainian forces recently reported major successes on the southern front line.
On Sept. 3, General Tarnavsky said that Russia's first defensive line near Zaporizhzhia had been breached. The push-through was possible thanks to a meticulous mine-clearing operation, the commander noted, adding that the second line is less fortified.
Last week, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby also said that Ukraine made "notable progress" on the southern front. According to the Institute for the Study of War, Kyiv's forces continue to advance south of Robotyne and northwest of Verbove.