HomeTop StoriesImportant weeks for the Russian war in Ukraine

Important weeks for the Russian war in Ukraine

Ukraine knew that Russia was planning a summer offensive, but not where it would start. That became clear on May 10, when Russian troops entered the border area north of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

They have since seized a number of villages not far from the border and are trying to push through as Ukraine’s remaining forces try to shore up a weakened front line.

A buffer zone or a deeper push?

By invading Vovchansk, just 5km inside Ukraine, and capturing large swaths of Ukrainian territory in the Kharkov region, Russian forces may be trying to create a buffer zone to fend off Ukraine’s cross-border attacks.

Given the relatively poor state of Ukraine’s defense, they may also have much more ambitious plans.

That of Russia Vladimir Putin has been talking for some time about setting up a kind of “sanitary zone” that would protect the southern region of Belgorod from drone or missile attacks. Belgorod has also proven vulnerable to cross-border raids by two Ukraine-based Russian paramilitaries.

Russia could be planning a further cross-border attack towards the northern northwestern city of Sumy. Ukrainian military espionage chief Kyrylo Budanov believes a “small group of armed forces” is waiting there, ready to spring into action.

Sergei Shoigu, the new head of Russia’s Security Council, has only said that the army is advancing in all directions.

That could mean pushing deeper into Ukraine, either to force Kiev to divert troops from its fiercest front line in the eastern Donbas or to seize ever-increasing amounts of territory.

The US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War believes that the main goal is to create a buffer zone, as does Russian military analyst Anatoly Matviychuk.

But Russian troops are also advancing towards the village of Lyptsi, some 20 km from the northern outskirts of Kharkov and, in his words, “we can practically see the outskirts of Kharkov through binoculars.” The sudden capture of Ukraine’s second largest city could be in Russia’s sights.

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Is Kharkov in danger?

With a pre-war population of 1.4 million, Kharkiv trails only Kiev and Dnipro in economic importance to Ukraine. It is too close to the border to have adequate air defenses and has been repeatedly exposed to deadly Russian bombardments by ballistic and upgraded anti-aircraft missiles and glide bombs.

If Russia were able to capture it, Matviychuk says, it would prove a “turning point” in the war and hit Ukraine’s industrial potential hard.

That seems very unlikely. Ukrainian and Western commentators are convinced that Russia does not have the resources to do this. If it took 80,000 Russian troops to take the destroyed eastern city of Avdiivka last February, a much larger city like Kharkov would need numbers that Russia does not have.

State of war in Ukraine

[BBC]

President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a visit to Kharkiv that the situation in the region was “generally under control”, although the area remained extremely difficult.

“The strategic intention of the Russian forces is… the encirclement of Kharkov as a regional center,” said Oleksandr Musiienko, head of the Center for Military and Political Studies in Kiev.

In this way, they would not only create a buffer zone 10 to 15 km deep, he says, but also give Russia the opportunity to attack Kharkov later.

Ukrainian military blogger Yuriy Butusov says that too many mistakes have been made in defending the border and that, now that the Russian forces have seen how thinly spread the defense line is, they could try to set up both a buffer zone and a bridgehead, to launch deeper into Ukrainian territory. : “Of course this is their goal.”

The Russian focus on the east

The war has dragged on for months, with Russian forces making small gains against high human losses, especially in the eastern region of Donetsk.

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Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute believes the main objective of the summer offensive is “the expansion of the Russian attack in the Donbas,” with the aim of cutting supply lines and then giving their forces a route both north and south to give.

Three months after capturing Avdiivka, the Russian army has set its sights on other targets in the Donetsk region further to the northwest, including the strategically important hill town of Chasiv Yar.

Rob Lee of the Foreign Policy Research Institute says Ukrainian troops stationed in Khasiv Yar have been moved to Kharkiv, leaving Ukraine with fewer units available there.

The loss of Khasiv Yar would make Ukrainian cities in the Donbas even more vulnerable to Russian attacks.

Forcing Ukraine to commit troops, air defenses and artillery to the defense of its second city would also put pressure on the front line further south, near the Dnipro River, and then threaten the major southeastern city of Zaporizhizia.

Russian forces have already claimed the capture of a southern village that Ukraine retook last summer. Even though Ukraine still controls that village of Robotyne, it is clear that the Russian offensive in the north is putting significant pressure on Ukraine’s outnumbered forces elsewhere.

Does Russia have sufficient resources to gain ground?

In Kiev they think that the Russian troops in Ukraine now exceed half a million. This has left the Ukrainian military both manned and under-armed, while Vladimir Putin now spends an estimated 8.7% of Russia’s entire economic output (GDP) on defense and security.

But there are reportedly only 20,000 reinforcements waiting on the northern border, and despite all reports of the Kremlin’s plans to mobilize another 300,000 Russians, there is no evidence of such a thing.

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And yet Russia still has a large numerical advantage. A senior Ukrainian general said the ratio was as high as 10 to one. A similar benefit is reported in terms of shells.

Ukraine recently signed a law lowering the mobilization age by two years to 25, which could increase the size of its army by a reported 100,000 troops.

But that change will take time. The same applies to the arrival of US arms supplies, which the US Congress voted on in April.

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, General Christopher Cavoli, has said he is confident the Ukrainian military can hold the line: “The Russians do not have the numbers necessary to achieve a strategic breakthrough. ..in fact, they haven’t.” the skill and ability to do it.”

And the man appointed Ukraine’s commander-in-chief in February, Oleksandr Syrskyi, is considered the architect of the Ukrainian struggle in September 2022, when the army expelled Russian units from more than 500 places in the Donbas and the Kharkov region. One of the villages they liberated was Vovchansk.

The difference now is that the Russian commanders will have learned from their mistakes.

“The city of Kharkov and the entire Kharkov region are now the focus of our efforts to make the lives of Kharkov residents safer,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said this week.

What Putin wants

As the Russian leader seeks gains on the ground, there are signs that the Kremlin may be willing to return to the peace talks that broke down two years ago.

“We are open to dialogue on Ukraine, but such negotiations must take into account the interests of all countries involved in the conflict, including ours,” Vladimir Putin told China’s state news agency Xinhua.

The timing of his comments comes a month before a planned peace summit in Switzerland.

Russia has not been invited to the meeting in Lucerne on June 15 and 16, but the Swiss say more than 50 countries, including Ukraine, are going, and they are trying to involve Russia’s ally China.

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