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ISW: Russia Makes Tactical Gains in Kharkiv, But Large-Scale Offensive Unlikely

ISW: Russia Makes Tactical Gains in Kharkiv, But Large-Scale Offensive Unlikely
Assessed control of terrain around Kharkiv as of May 11, 2024. (Source: ISW)

Russian forces started an offensive campaign in the northern Kharkiv Region, making tactical gains. The scale of the involved troops so far doesn’t indicate plans to capture Kharkiv city.

According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) assessment, on May 11, Russia managed to make tactically significant gains in less defended areas. As of May 13, battles are still ongoing.

According to ISW, Russian forces are reaping the benefits of the West’s long-term restriction on Ukraine using Western-provided weapons to strike legitimate military targets on Russian territory — territory that Russian forces now depend on to sustain their offensive operations in northern Kharkiv Region.

The analysts highlight that the disclosed count of Russian units engaged in this campaign so far, along with the arrangement of Russian troops stationed along the northeastern Ukrainian border, suggests that Russian forces are presently not planning a broad-scale campaign to encircle or seize the city of Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine.

Russian forces will likely introduce reserves to intensify ongoing offensive operations in the area in the coming days, however, the Russian forces lack the necessary manpower required to attempt a large-scale offensive operation to envelop, encircle, or seize Kharkiv according to all available reports.

ISW continues to assess that the Russian offensive maneuvers in the northern Kharkiv Region are likely intended to divert Ukrainian forces from other areas of the front, thereby enabling Russian forces to advance within the artillery range of Kharkiv.

Ukrainian Khortytsia spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Nazar Voloshyn stated that Russian forces are trying to advance in areas that were already contested “grey zones,” suggesting that Ukrainian forces did not maintain enduring positions in many of the small border settlements that Russia has seized.

Russian forces will likely face more intense resistance when trying to advance near settlements further south of the border and into larger border settlements like Lyptsi and Vovchansk.

According to ISW, the limited Russian offensive operations in northern Kharkiv Region suggest that the resumption of US security assistance has not changed Putin’s calculus or that he launched the Kharkiv effort without reassessing the operation’s fundamental assumptions about Ukrainian capabilities in light of the resumption of aid.

The directions of Russian offensive operations in the border area suggest that Russia may be attempting to create a “buffer zone” around Belgorod, as Russian and Ukrainian officials have recently stated.

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