Espreso. Global

No signs of Russian operation to encircle Kharkiv yet - ISW

23 March, 2024 Saturday
13:40

There are currently no signs of Russian army preparing a potential offensive to capture Kharkiv: Russian troops have allocated minimal forces to protect Russia's international borders, and these forces will not be enough for such an operation

This is stated in a report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

As the Russian media wrote the day before, some Russian officials expressed hope that an increase in troop numbers would allow them to conduct a future offensive to encircle Kharkiv.

According to them, the conscripts called up in the spring conscription cycle and “incompetent” reservists will go to Russia’s southern border in support roles or as border troops as part of efforts to free up more experienced military personnel for an attack on Kharkiv.

A source in the Russian presidential administration told Verstka that the Russian army needs 300,000 additional troops to launch an operation to surround Kharkiv. It also added that the Russian military hopes to capture the city without turning it into a "second Mariupol."

However, ISW analysts suggest that a Russian offensive to surround Kharkiv would be an extremely ambitious project. To do so, the Russians would need to make long drives across open terrain, which they have not conducted since the start of the full-scale invasion.

The Institute notes that  Russian forces are currently conducting an offensive operation along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line that aims to reach the Oskil River in Kharkiv region. However, even if this effort succeeds, the prospects for Russian troops to advance into Kharkiv region from the eastern bank of the Oskil River are as challenging as the prospects of advancing elsewhere along the international border with Belgorod region if not more so.

"Russian forces have committed relatively minimal forces to protect Russia’s international borders, and these elements would be insufficient for an operation to encircle Kharkiv City. The reported plan to generate 300,000 new personnel could allow Russian forces to free up relatively combat-effective elements along the frontline in Ukraine for an operation to encircle Kharkiv City, but at the expense of offensive operations in sectors of the front that the Russian military command has been prioritizing for over a year and a half of campaigning in Ukraine," the ISW report says.

The Institute has previously estimated that Russian troops could conduct limited offensive operations along the international border with Kharkiv region to draw and fix  Ukrainian troops. In addition, such an operation could be an attempt by the Kremlin to respond to calls from ultranationalists to push the Ukrainian army away from the border with Belgorod region to distract Ukrainians from the ongoing Russian offensive along the Kharkiv-Luhansk axis.

"ISW has yet to observe any indicators that Russian forces are currently preparing for an offensive operation to encircle Kharkiv City," the analysts emphasize.

  • At the end of February, Ilia Yevlash, the head of the press service of the Khortytsia group of troops, noted that powerful fortifications had been installed in the Kupyansk direction, so it was too early to talk about a Russian offensive on Kharkiv.
  • Later, the commander of the Ukrainian Land Forces, Oleksandr Pavliuk, said that the Russians are doing everything to continue their offensive in the Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions, so it is too early to conclude that their actions have slowed down.
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