What are realistic expectations for Ukraine's military offensive? Most major military operations are shrouded in secrecy. Ukraine's planned offensive against Russia has been under public debate for months. This has created expectations. Some realistic, some not.

What are realistic expectations for Ukraine's military offensive?

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Russia has been experiencing a number of small-scale attacks on its own territory. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility, but some analysts believe that these attacks could be setting the stage for a Ukrainian offensive. NPR's Greg Myre has a look at what Ukraine hopes to achieve on the battlefield.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Major military operations are normally shrouded in secrecy. But Ukraine's planned offensive against Russia has been undergoing public debate for months, and this has created a wide range of expectations. Steven Pifer is a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

STEVEN PIFER: In the best case, what the Ukrainians do is they really liberate a lot of territory, perhaps even pushing the Russians back to the line on February 23 of last year, before this massive Russian invasion began. That would be a huge blow to Moscow.

MYRE: This scenario would erase Russia's most important advance over the past year, the creation of a land bridge connecting Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, the Donbas region, to Russian forces in the south in Crimea. But Pifer acknowledges this is pretty optimistic.

PIFER: Probably a more realistic expectation is that the Ukrainians take a good chunk of territory back, something that would be seen in the West as underscoring that Ukraine has the potential to win.

MYRE: The U.S. and other NATO nations are sending Ukraine tanks, drones and artillery, giving it more firepower than ever as it plans this offensive. But the lengthy buildup has given Russia time to reinforce vulnerable spots in the south and east where Ukraine is most likely to attack. Michael Kofman is at the think tank the Center for Naval Analyses. He believes a Ukrainian offensive can succeed, but says it will be more challenging than the one that pushed back Russian troops last fall.

MICHAEL KOFMAN: It may require multiple offensives on multiple fronts, and it will likely be conducted over the period of several months rather than days or weeks.

MYRE: And Ukraine's offensive comes with big risks. Angela Stent at Georgetown University says Ukraine needs to advance on the battlefield to maintain the strong level of political and military support it's receiving from the West.

ANGELA STENT: If they don't show much success, it's going to be much harder to justify supplying all the weapons to them. So I think they could then say, if they take back some territory, hey, look, we're making progress. It's very tough. We still need the equipment, the money, and please send us more.

MYRE: Michael Kofman says Ukraine and its Western supporters could well have different definitions of success.

KOFMAN: Well, the honest answer is I think we'll know it when we see it. And it will, to some extent, be subjectively interpreted by different capitals, you know, in Europe and amongst Ukraine's other Western partners.

MYRE: The analysts also agree on another key point. Regardless of how this Ukrainian offensive plays out, they don't think it will end the war. They see Russian leader Vladimir Putin playing the long game, believing he can wear down Ukraine's military and the willingness of the West to provide sustained support. Again, Angela Stent.

STENT: So the Russians still have hundreds of thousands of young men, cannon fodder, whom they can conscript. Ukraine doesn't have, you know, endless numbers of young men it can send to the front.

MYRE: Steven Pifer, meanwhile, was a longtime diplomat, but he doesn't think now is the right time for peace talks.

PIFER: I believe at some point there will be a negotiation in this war between Kyiv and Moscow, but it - not now and not while the Russians have shown absolutely no indication that they're serious.

MYRE: Pifer says Ukraine has repeatedly surprised the world in this war. Be prepared, he says, to be surprised again.

Greg Myre, NPR News.

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