Can Ukraine Pull Off Another Thunder Run Offensive?

Wes O'Donnell
5 min readApr 27, 2023

The Russians have gone into a defensive posture, and they have more troops now than they had at the start of the war.

Soldiers with the Armed Forces of Ukraine ride their BTR-80 armored troop transport after conducting convoy operations training on July 27, 2015, during Rapid Trident in Yavoriv, Ukraine. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexander Skripnichuk, 13th Public Affairs Detachment) Public domain.

In September of last year, Ukraine took a tactic from the U.S. playbook and executed a “Thunder Run” — a high-risk, high-reward, balls-to-the-wall push into enemy territory that happens so fast, it’s meant to shock and demoralize the enemy.

The last time Ukraine did this, they smashed through Russian lines in the Kharkiv region and then kept going — rushing through villages and cities — while the Russians dropped their rifles and ran, leaving behind military hardware and fully-stocked ammo depots.

The Ukrainian military punched 80 km into Russian-held territory, right up to the Russian border. By the time the Ukrainians had stopped to take a breath, they had captured an area larger than Delaware.

Also called a “reconnaissance by force,” or “reconnaissance by fire,” the key to a successful thunder run is speed and violence that results in enemy confusion.

During the Iraq War, the American commander of the 2nd Brigade, Third Infantry Division Col. David Perkins once said about attacking Baghdad, “My goal was to create as much confusion as I can inside the city because I had found that my soldiers can react to chaos much better than the enemy can.”

Last year, the conditions in September were ripe for a lightning-fast Ukrainian attack. Russian defenses had been slowly eroding over the summer months leading up to Ukraine’s stunning victory.

Ukraine established well-organized communication channels and practiced excellent command and control that allowed them to coordinate numerous units, including airpower, artillery, air defense, and nearly 10,000 infantrymen — all working in harmony.

But what about today? Could Ukraine do it again?

Ukraine’s success last year was largely a product of surprise — they caught the Russians completely off guard. In contrast, Ukraine’s upcoming Spring counter-offensive is well-known and all but guaranteed.

Even the Russians are expecting it and have shifted from an offensive posture (except in Bakhmut) to a defensive one.

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Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security guy at War is Boring, GEN, OneZero | Intel Forecaster | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Pro-Democracy | Pro-Human Rights