ISW analysts evaluate challenges and strategic goals of Russian offensive on Kharkiv

Ukrainian soldiers at the front
Ukrainian soldiers at the front

Russia has made tactically significant gains in their offensive in Kharkiv Oblast, but it will be difficult for them to capture the city itself if they aim to do so, according to the report by the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War on May 10.

Russia’s offensive has limited operational goals, but is aimed at achieving a strategic effect – diverting Ukrainian manpower and equipment from other critical areas of the front in eastern Ukraine. So far, Russian troops have launched two limited operations in the area: one north of Kharkiv toward Lyptsi and the other northeast of Kharkiv near Vovchansk.

Geolocation footage confirms that the Russian troops captured the village of Pylna and advanced south of it. NASA Fire Information for Resource Management (FIRMS) data from May 10 also indicates that fierce fighting may have taken place in and around these four locations.

ISW assesses that the Russian invasion forces have also occupied Strilecha, Krasne and Borysivka, but has not yet seen geolocation confirmation of this information.

The Russian army is likely to use its tactical foothold in the north of Kharkiv Oblast in the coming days to intensify offensive operations and push Ukrainian troops away from the border with Belgorod Oblast. The Russians are seeking to get closer to Kharkiv to a distance from which they can fire on the city with cannon artillery.

The Russian military is creating a Northern Grouping of Forces along Ukraine’s border with Bryansk, Kursk, and Belgorod oblasts and have reportedly concentrated 35,000 to 50,000 troops in the area, ISW writes.

Read also: Ukrainian troops counterattack Russian forces in Kharkiv Oblast's 'gray zone'

Russian and Ukrainian sources did not specify which Russian units were involved in the offensive, but it is very likely that the aggressor has reserves ready to intensify the offensive north of Kharkiv in the coming days.

Analysts say that the Russian troops are currently about 30 kilometers from the outskirts of Kharkiv, and their advance to within 20 kilometers of the city is likely to allow them to fire indiscriminately at Kharkiv with cannon artillery, which, combined with constant attacks with guided aerial bombs and missiles, is likely intended to create conditions for a larger-scale offensive on Kharkiv in the future.

The offensive currently being carried out by the Russians gives no reason to believe that they will immediately launch a large-scale offensive to surround and capture Kharkiv, and the operation near Vovchansk does not involve a direct offensive on the city.

Instead, Russian offensive operations near Vovchansk may be aimed at pulling Ukrainian units defending north of Kharkiv to the other side of the Siverskyi Donets and Pechenizke Reservoir and pulling those troops defending in the Kupyansk area further away from this line.

Read also: Russia might expand its Kharkiv offensive — Washington

The advance of Russian troops near Vovchansk could also allow Russian troops to put pressure on the operational rear of Ukrainian forces defending the Kupyansk front.

According to analysts, Russian offensive operations in the direction of Lyptsi could help in a narrow offensive on Kharkiv, although it is very unlikely that the Russian military command, which has been improving its operational planning in recent months, will take such a vulnerable step.

The resumption of offensive operations in the north of Kharkiv Oblast and the achievement of even tactically significant successes could force the Ukrainian military command to allocate forces and resources to the defense north of Kharkiv that it could otherwise have directed to defense elsewhere. This would thus stretch Ukraine’s limited resources and exacerbate its already existing manpower shortages.

The Russian military command probably hopes that these strategic efforts will weaken the Ukrainian defense as a whole and allow the aggressor to achieve a breakthrough in any area that becomes most vulnerable. Russian troops will likely try to use this to intensify efforts to expand the breakthrough northwest of Avdiivka and capture Chasiv Yar.

ISW estimates that the capture of Kharkiv will require long movements across open terrain that the invasion forces have not made since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, and some elements of the Russian Northern Grouping of Forces may not be combat-ready, as it also lacks the personnel necessary to successfully conduct such an ambitious operation.

Russia’s attempt to capture Kharkiv would likely require Russian troops to deprioritize other critical frontline areas and redeploy a significant number of forces to the international border, which they are unlikely to do given their long-standing goal of capturing the entire Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

Analysts believe that Russian troops have decided to launch offensive operations along the border with Kharkiv Oblast to use the relatively short time left before Western aid arrives in Ukraine in full, so they will try to use this window to gain tactical advantages throughout eastern Ukraine.

Russian offensive near Vovchansk, Kharkiv Oblast on May 10

Russian forces attempted an assault toward Vovchansk at 5 a.m. on May 10, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported. Reserve units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were sent to Kharkiv Oblast, and “battles of varying intensity are ongoing,” the Ministry said.

Earlier, Kharkiv regional governor, Oleh Synehubov, confirmed the intensification of shelling in Vovchansk and the work of Russian sabotage and reconnaissance groups. However, he believes the enemy grouping does not pose a threat to Kharkiv.

Read also: Ukraine redeploying troops to Kharkiv Oblast — Zelenskyy

DeepState analysts also reported that the enemy has begun to intensify its activities in Kharkiv Oblast. The Russian forces are trying to enter and gain a foothold in a number of settlements along the border, in particular, in the villages of Strilecha - Krasne - Pylna - Borysivka. The aggressor is also attempting to enter the settlements of Hatyshche and Pletenivka.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the Defense Forces were aware of the enemy’s plans, so they met the Russian assault with fire. The Ukrainian Armed Forces will redeploy forces to the Kharkiv sector.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine