Russia’s new offensive in northeast Ukraine ‘not an open highway to Kharkiv’ | EUROtoday

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Over the previous three days, Russia has seized management of a number of localities north of Kharkiv in a fierce new offensive that might convey Moscow to the gates of Ukraine’s second-largest metropolis. FRANCE 24 spoke to a number of army analysts who imagine that it’s nonetheless too early to talk of a turning level in Russia’s battle on Ukraine.

Russian troops are urgent forward with a brand new offensive in northeastern Ukraine in one of the crucial vital floor assaults since Moscow’s full-scale invasion started in February 2022.

After Russia’s shock cross-border incursions final Friday, troops are actually advancing in the direction of Kharkiv, a metropolis that in 2022 grew to become a key image of fierce Ukrainian resistance towards Russian aggression.

Russian forces “continued to make tactically vital advances north and northeast of Kharkiv City on May 13”, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US army think-tank recognized for its day by day updates on the battle in Ukraine, stated on Monday night.

“In the past three days, Russian troops … have poured across Ukraine’s northeastern border and seized at least nine villages and settlements,” the New York Times reportedin a bleak account of what’s being offered as a Russian breakthrough in Ukraine.

Kyiv on Wednesday stated it had pulled again troops close to a number of villages in Kharkiv, including that the army was sending extra troops to the area to carry again Russian advances. Some 8,000 Ukrainians have up to now been evacuated from the Kharkiv area.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has cancelled all upcoming worldwide journeys over the contemporary offensive, together with a deliberate journey to Spain on Friday.

Far from the Donbas

“Every hour this situation moves towards critical,” General Kyrylo Budanov, the pinnacle of Kyiv’s GUR army intelligence company, stated in a video name from a bunker in Kharkiv on Monday.

“It is the most significant push [from the Russians] in months,” noticed Sim Thank youa army analyst specialising in strategic geopolitical dynamics.

The battle within the northeast represents a brand new large-scale offensive removed from the epicentre of the entrance, which lies within the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia areas of southern Ukraine.

Furthermore, the velocity with which Russian troops are advancing from one settlement to a different north of Kharkiv contrasts sharply with the extra static entrance line within the Donbas, which is made up of trenches and fortifications.

A map illustrating Russia's advance in the Kharkiv region.
A map illustrating Russia’s advance within the Kharkiv area. © FRANCE 24 graphics studio

Most analysts weren’t anticipating a Russian incursion into the Kharkiv area. A month in the past, they have been betting on Russia making a breakthrough west of Bakhmut to “open the way to Kramatorsk”.

Russia’s sudden advance additionally seems to have taken Kyiv without warning, doubtlessly opening up a brand new entrance that might increase Moscow’s spring offensive.

At first look, Russia’s army successes seem to “increase two questions”, stated David Lewis, a Russia specialist on the University of Exeter. Russia’s sudden advance sparks considerations concerning the effectiveness of fortifications within the Kharkiv area and concerning the Ukrainian military’s capability to organise the defence of the entrance line.

Kyiv on Monday responded to the assault north of Kharkiv by sacking the Ukrainian commander answerable for the Kharkiv area, General Yuriy Halushkin, and changing him with General Mykhaylo Drapatiy.

Appointing a brand new commander “could be seen as a way to revitalise the defence”, said Will Kingston-Cox, an expert on the conflict in Ukraine for the Europinion centre for geopolitical analysis.

Buffer zone or ruse?

But many analysts say the scale of the Russian advance in Kharkiv is still limited.

“This first push across the border is not very surprising, and they have mainly pushed into a no-man’s land. Ukrainian troops aren’t there – they are further south,” Tack said.

After the first Russian offensive in the spring of 2022, the Ukrainians largely evacuated the border zone.

The village of Vovchansk, for example, went from a pre-war population of around 17,000 people to just a few hundred remaining residents, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Ukraine has not, however, given Russian forces an open road to Kharkiv. The fighting around Vovchansk shows that Russia’s advance will become increasingly difficult.

“In the short term, [Moscow’s] plan isn’t to take Kharkiv,” stated Kingston-Cox, including that it was most unlikely Russia “could take Ukraine’s second-largest city with so few soldiers”.

Indeed, the Russian military has mobilised simply 50,000 males and armoured autos within the neighbouring area of Belgorod to help the opening of the northern entrance.

This is fewer troops than these despatched by Moscow to assault Bakhmut, a metropolis of far much less significance than Kharkiv, and the place Russia has already struggled to dominate.

It raises the query of why Russia despatched so many troopers right into a no-man’s land when Russian forces might have bolstered the principle battle effort within the Donetsk area.

Russia’s principal goal might be “to form some sort of buffer zone in the Kharkiv region”, stated Lewis, with the transfer “aimed at preventing Ukrainian cross-border attacks in the Belgorod region”.

Belgorod has certainly change into a favorite goal of pro-Ukrainian particular models such because the Freedom of Russia Legion.

Read extraA have a look at the Free Russia Legion, the pro-Ukrainian group that attacked Belgorod

Russians combating alongside Ukrainians have stepped up their incursions into Russia, finishing up a number of assaults earlier this 12 months.

“The Kremlin was under pressure to do something about the cross-border attacks on Belgorod,” Lewis stated.

Kingston-Cox additionally believes that Russia’s advance in Kharkiv “could very well be a ruse” to try to draw Ukrainian troops away from the south, including that “it would be very difficult for Ukraine to defend itself on both fronts”.

Long-term goal

Since the battle started in February 2022, Ukraine’s military has grown more and more wanting troops and gear. In a bid to replenish their depleted ranks, the Ukrainian parliament handed a invoice final Wednesday that may permit some convicts to enlist within the military in trade for an opportunity at parole.

Kingston-Cox stated Kyiv’s determination “could be seen as some kind of desperation to get individuals on the entrance line”.

Meanwhile, Russia is counting on their “advantage in manpower and ammunition”, Lewis said.

Until the next tranche of Western aid arrives and Ukraine’s mobilisation law takes effect, Russia has a window of opportunity of a few months to try and make the most of the situation, he added.

But Kyiv cannot allow Russian troops to make themselves comfortable in the Kharkiv region, Lewis said. If Ukraine lets this happen and “Russia sees a weak spot, they may attempt to push in the direction of Kharkiv”.

The metropolis stays a main goal for Moscow. “It’s symbolic and also strategic,” stated Kingston-Cox, explaining that seizing Kharkiv would allow Russia to determine a provide line that might be used for a brand new offensive to the west, after which on to Kyiv.

This story has been translated from the unique in French.

© France Médias Monde graphic studio