The reasons for the Russian advance in Kharkiv, important but not decisive

The Ukrainian resistance is facing serious difficulties in the face of the Russian offensive in the north of the Kharkiv region, the country's second largest city. Putin's troops are gaining ground with incessant attacks along the entire border. Over the past three days, Russian forces have struck with planes, artillery and kamikaze drones, managing to cross Ukraine's northeastern border and capture at least nine villages and settlements. The New York Times highlights that Moscow's army is occupying more square kilometers per day than at any other time in the war, except for the first days of the conflict. According to the US newspaper, fear is growing among Ukrainians of a turning point in the conflict in Moscow's favor. “The situation on the battlefield in Ukraine is difficult at the moment – said the Pentagon spokesperson – the Ukrainians continue to take measures to defend their territory, and we will do everything possible to provide them with the ammunition and critical supplies they need ». He then stressed that “it goes without saying that this pause in security assistance has not been helpful,” referring to the stalemate in Congress over new aid. Moscow «has exploited the situation on the battlefield and is trying to make progress. However incremental they may be, it is certainly concerning.”

The commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Alexander Syrsky, recognized the gravity of the situation, highlighting however that “the defense is holding its positions” in the Kharkiv oblast. Thousands of civilians fled the north of the region last weekend to seek refuge in reception centers in the big city. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of “fierce fighting across much of our border strip in Kharkiv”, explaining that “some villages have gone from a gray zone to a war zone and the occupiers are trying to take control of some of them while using others to advance.” Zelensky then added that “on the outskirts of Vovchansk the situation is extremely difficult: the city is constantly under Russian fire and our soldiers are counterattacking by helping local residents.”

Some military analysts believe that the Russian advance has put Ukraine in a very dangerous position. However, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), this phase of the conflict is unlikely to lead to a significant breakthrough, as Russian operations are still “relatively limited along the border.”

Despite tactically significant progress in areas less defended by the Ukrainians, Russian forces are not carrying out a large-scale operation to encircle or capture Kharkiv, which continues to be hit by Moscow's airstrikes. The Ukrainian military is facing a severe ammunition shortage, exacerbated by the delay in the delivery of US aid, while Ukrainian soldiers are increasingly exhausted. After more than two years of fighting, Ukraine is desperately seeking new soldiers, including through controversial laws such as the mobilization of detainees and blocking the renewal of passports for men of military age who are abroad.

The Russians are advancing towards Lyptsi, a town closer to Kharkiv than the already besieged Vovchansk. Taking Lyptsi would allow the Russians to use artillery directly on Kharkiv, a metropolis with over a million inhabitants already hit hard by missiles and drones. The Russian threat to Kharkiv aims to force Ukraine to divert troops from other battlefields, particularly Donbass. A senior Ukrainian military source told Reuters that, as of May 10, Russian forces had pushed a kilometer inside the Ukrainian border near Vovchansk, adding that Moscow was trying to push back Kiev's resistance by up to 10 km inside Ukraine to create a “buffer zone” which is precisely what he had suggested last March to prevent the Ukrainian army from bombing the Russian region of Belgorod, bordering the Kharkiv region. Thibault Fouillet, deputy director of the Institut d'études de stratégie et de défense, told the New York Times that the Russian advance in the Kharkiv region “will have little impact on the war in general”, since Moscow “is making limited and costly gains in terms of human lives”. In this regard according to BBCthe Russian military death toll in Ukraine has now passed the 50,000 mark, thus eight times higher than the only official public acknowledgment of the number of victims ever provided by Moscow in September 2022, «but it is likely that the actual number of Russian deaths is much higher.”

Russia had already captured border areas in the Kharkiv region at the start of the invasion in February 2022. However, Kiev's army managed to liberate the occupied territories in a surprise counteroffensive. Russian sources cited by Meduza reported last March that senior security officials were considering trying to take Kharkiv and then declaring an end to the “special military operation.” Finally, as we write, we learn that the Biden administration is working to send another battery of Patriot missiles to Ukraine. The agency reports it Bloombergciting sources that the US plans to send a single battery along with radars.

Last night, Ukraine carried out a massive airstrike against the port city of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea and several Russian regions. This was announced by the Moscow Ministry of Defense, as reported by the agency Tax. In addition to Crimea, the operation hit the Belgorod, Kursk and Bryansk regions, also using ATACMS long-range precision missiles supplied by the United States. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, “10 Atacms missiles were shot down over Crimea and the attack was largely foiled.” The Independent reports that Ukraine also deployed 17 kamikaze drones.