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War in Ukraine: key weeks ahead for the Russian offensive in Ukraine

Image source, REUTERS/Valentin Ogirenko

Legend, The remaining population of Vovchansk was evacuated as Russia bombed the border town

  • Author, Paul Kirby
  • Role, BBC News

Ukraine knew Russia was planning a summer offensive, but it didn’t know where to start. This became evident on May 10, when Russian forces entered the border area north of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

They have since captured a number of villages not far from the border and are trying to advance while under-equipped Ukrainian forces try to consolidate a weakened front line.

A buffer zone or a deeper push?

By entering Vovchansk, just 5 km inside Ukraine, and seizing large areas of Ukrainian territory in the Kharkiv region, Russian forces could attempt to create a buffer zone to repel own attacks. cross-border crossings of Ukraine.

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

Russia could consider a new cross-border advance towards the northwest city of Sumy. The head of Ukrainian military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, believes that a “small group of forces” is waiting there, ready to act.

Image source, Russian Volunteer Corps/Reuters

Legend, Russian forces said they had entered parts of Vovchansk

Sergei Shoigu, the new head of the Russian Security Council, simply said that the army was advancing in all directions.

This could involve pushing deeper into Ukraine, either to force kyiv to divert its forces away from the fiercest front line in eastern Donbass, or to seize ever larger territories.

The American 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 forces are also advancing towards the village of Lyptsi, about 20 kilometers from the northern suburbs of Kharkiv and, in his words, “we can practically see the suburbs of Kharkiv with binoculars.” The sudden capture of Ukraine’s second-largest city could be in Russian crosshairs.

Is Kharkiv in danger?

With a pre-war population of 1.4 million, Kharkiv comes behind kyiv and Dnipro in terms of economic importance to Ukraine. It is too close to the border to have sufficient air defense and has repeatedly come under deadly Russian bombardment with ballistic and retrofitted anti-aircraft missiles and glide bombs.

If Russia were to succeed in seizing it, Matviychuk says it would be a “turning point” in the war and would deal a major blow to Ukraine’s industrial potential.

This seems highly unlikely. Ukrainian and Western commentators are convinced that Russia does not have the resources to do so. If it took 80,000 Russian troops to capture the devastated eastern town of Avdiivka last February, a much larger city like Kharkiv would need manpower that Russia does not have.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, visiting Kharkiv, said the situation in the region was “generally under control”, although the area remained extremely difficult.

“The strategic intention of Russian troops is… the encirclement of Kharkiv as a regional center,” explains Oleksandr Musiienko, head of the kyiv Center for Military and Political Studies.

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 Kharkiv later.

Ukrainian military blogger Yuriy Butusov says too many mistakes have been made in defending the border and that now that Russian forces have seen how scattered the defenses are, they might try to establish both a buffer zone and a bridgehead, to penetrate deeper into Ukrainian territory. : “Of course, this is their goal.”

Image source, ROMAIN PILIPEY/AFP

Legend, The Ukrainian army sent more troops to Kharkiv to halt Russia’s advance.

Russia focuses on the East

For many months the war dragged on, with Russian forces achieving minor gains at great human cost, particularly in the eastern Donetsk region.

Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute believes that the main objective of the summer offensive is “the expansion of the Russian push into Donbass”, with the aim of cutting supply lines and then giving their forces a route to the north and south.

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

Rob Lee of the Foreign Policy Research Institute says Ukrainian troops based at Chasiv Yar would have been transferred to Kharkiv, leaving Ukraine with fewer units available there.

The loss of Chasiv Yar would make Ukrainian towns in Donbas even more vulnerable to Russian attacks.

By forcing Ukraine to commit troops, air defenses and artillery to defend its second city, pressure would also be exerted on the front line further south near the Dnipro River and would then threaten the major city of southeast of Zaporizhizia.

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

Does Russia have enough resources to gain ground?

In kyiv, Russian forces in Ukraine are estimated to now number more than half a million. This has left Ukraine’s military both undermanned and outgunned, with Vladimir Putin now devoting around 8.7% of Russia’s entire economic output (GDP) to defense and security.

But the reinforcements waiting at the northern border are believed to number only 20,000, and despite all the reports of Kremlin plans to mobilize an additional 300,000 Russians, there is no evidence of anything like that.

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

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

But this change will take time. As well as the arrival of American arms supplies, voted by the American Congress in April.

The Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Christopher Cavoli, expressed confidence in the Ukrainian army’s ability to hold out: “The Russians do not have the manpower necessary to achieve a strategic breakthrough… more precisely, they do not have the competence and capacity to do so.

And the man who was named Ukraine’s commander-in-chief in February, Oleksandr Syrskyi, is seen as the architect of Ukraine’s response in September 2022, when the army pushed back Russian units by more than 500 locations in Donbass and Kharkiv regions. One of the villages they liberated was Vovchansk.

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

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

What Putin wants

As the Russian leader seeks results on the ground, there are signs the Kremlin may be ready to resume peace talks abandoned 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 official Xinhua news agency. .

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

Russia has not been invited to Lucerne on June 15-16, but Switzerland says more than 50 countries, including Ukraine, will go there and they are trying to involve China, Russia’s ally. Russia.

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News Source : www.bbc.com

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