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Shaping operations are underway for Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russia

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Dan Rice joins us next. He is the president of a new institution, the American University Kyiv. He was previously an Iraq war veteran for the United States and special adviser to the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces. He is, of course, following news of the forecast Ukrainian offensive. Mr. Rice, welcome to the program.

DAN RICE: Thanks, Steve. Glad to be here.

INSKEEP: Are you sure there's going to be a big offensive? The Ukrainians have talked about it so much that I wonder.

RICE: Absolutely. I expect a counteroffensive very soon. We won't know when it starts until we have perfect hindsight, but you're seeing shaping operations. And shaping operations is military term for preparation for a major counteroffensive. So you're seeing attacks across all areas to confuse the Russians. They won't know where it's going to come. But when it comes, it will be very - a very large or multiple counteroffensives. And I expect that very soon.

INSKEEP: Oh, so when we hear, just in the last few minutes, news of Ukrainians and Russians commenting on a Ukrainian attack in the northern city of Bakhmut, that's the kind of thing that might be a shaping operation that would make the Russians think maybe this is the counteroffensive, maybe it's not. Is that what you're saying?

RICE: That could be one of the many attacks. You know, there's partisan Russian attacks deep inside of Russia. There are attacks - drone attacks against the Black Sea fleet. You're seeing a lot of attacks increasing. It's a lot of kinetic activity, we call it, across multiple fronts. The Russians are going to be confused. They can't defend everywhere, which is why they blew up this dam. So that's called territorial denial. So by blowing up the dam, they make that area very difficult to pass, almost impassable. So armored forces can't go across an area that's just been flooded. So they're trying to deny a certain area of the potential counteroffensive in order to force Ukraine to go to a different area where Russia can concentrate its forces in the defense.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note, Ukraine has explicitly accused Russia of blowing up the dam. The Russians have denied it. It sounds like you don't have a lot of doubt about who did it.

RICE: Oh, not at all. I mean, you look to motive, you know? The Ukrainians aren't going to blow up their own dam and hurt their own people and destroy the infrastructure. Russia's been attacking the Ukrainian infrastructure since October. I was here when we started taking inbound missiles. And they were doing a very effective job at taking out the grid, which was their target. This is the grid. A hydroelectric dam is the grid. They're denying the future of Ukraine.

They know that they're going to lose here, in my opinion. So what they're doing is trying to destroy - a healthy economy within a free Ukraine is the biggest danger to Russia internally, so they want to deny Ukraine the opportunity to succeed. That's why they're trying to destroy the infrastructure before they are forced out. So they aren't doing a good job here in Kyiv mostly because of Raytheon systems. NASAMS, Patriot, Stinger are taking down all of the inbound cruise missiles that - even the ballistic ones. And so Ukraine - in Kyiv, we have power 24/7. Down south, they just took out the hydroelectric dam. And I would not doubt if they sabotage the 6-gigawatt Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant before they are forced out.

INSKEEP: We will continue watching that. I've just got a few seconds here. I want to ask one other thing. There are certain advantages to being on the defensive, as Ukraine has been. In a few seconds, do some of those advantages pass to Russia when Ukraine has to attack them and extend their supply lines and everything else?

RICE: Yes, 100%. In the defense, you are much stronger. You're not getting out of your foxholes. You're dug in. You've set up defenses for a long period of time, like Russia has in Crimea. The attacking force generally needs a 5-1 ratio. So Ukraine has to concentrate its forces, which it will, and strike hard and fast with the armored 10 brigades, new 10 brigades that have been fielded.

INSKEEP: Right.

RICE: And they will strike somewhere...

INSKEEP: OK.

RICE: ...Or multiple locations. But they need to hit hard and fast and penetrate and envelop and destroy a Russian army.

INSKEEP: Dan Rice, former adviser to the commander-in-chief of Ukraine's military. Thanks so much.

RICE: Thank you, Steve, appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.