Russia's premature launch of offensive in northern Kharkiv Oblast proved to be failure – ISW

Olha Hlushchenko — Sunday, 26 May 2024, 05:40

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believe that Russia's premature start of offensive operations has derailed its success in the north of Kharkiv Oblast.

Source: ISW

Details: Based on the data analysed, the ISW noted that Russian troops launched their offensive in northern Kharkiv Oblast with limited forces and have not yet moved significant reserves there, leading to a slowdown in Russian advance and offensive operations.

"This decreasing tempo is likely presenting Ukrainian forces with tactical opportunities to counterattack, although Ukrainian forces are not yet conducting a limited counteroffensive operation that aims to push Russian forces completely out of northern Kharkiv Oblast," the report said.

The fragmented distribution of Russian units currently operating in northern Kharkiv Oblast and the apparent hesitation of the Russian military to engage available reserves in combat suggests that Russian forces are likely trying to bring their Northern Grouping of Forces (NGF) to its planned final strength before intensifying offensive operations in the north of Kharkiv Oblast.

The NGF reportedly had around 35,000 troops in the border area at the start of the offensive on 10 May, while Ukrainian sources indicated that the Russian military intended to deploy between 50,000 and 70,000 soldiers there.

Analysts suggest that Russian forces may have launched the offensive in northern Kharkiv Oblast earlier than planned, employing an insufficient number of personnel, and that hoping to gain a foothold before the arrival of US military assistance to the front makes the task even more challenging.

The ISW report therefore concludes that Russia's premature launch of offensive operations has likely derailed its success in northern Kharkiv Oblast.

Russian forces reportedly succeeded in taking Ukrainian forces by surprise on 10 May and made tactically significant gains in areas that Ukrainian officials said were less well-defended.

Ukraine's State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) reported that it had opened an investigation into the inadequate preparation of Ukrainian defences in this area and the abandonment of Ukrainian positions on the Lypky and Vovchansk fronts.

The SBI noted that this had allowed Russian forces to advance towards the second line of Ukrainian defence in the area, although limited human resources appear to have prevented the Russians from achieving deeper penetration. Although it is possible that Russia's military commanders considered that the concentration of a larger force would alert Ukrainian defenders and prevent an opportunity for an operational surprise, Russia's decision not to immediately bring in significant reserves likely prevented it from making rapid gains and deeper penetration.

"Ukrainian forces have now established themselves at defensive positions in the area, and Russian forces have likely expended their tactical opportunity to make relatively rapid gains against lightly-held positions in this area," the report concluded.

To quote the ISW’s Key Takeaways on 25 May:

  • Ukrainian and Russian sources stated that Ukrainian forces are increasingly contesting the tactical initiative in northern Kharkiv Oblast and characterised Russian operations in the area as defensive, although Russian forces are likely attempting to bring the Northern Grouping of Forces up closer to its reported planned end strength before possibly intensifying offensive operations in the area.
  • The likely premature start of Russian offensive operations appears to have undermined Russian success in northern Kharkiv Oblast.
  • Russian forces continue to leverage their sanctuary in Russian airspace to strike Kharkiv City to devastating effect, likely as part of efforts to depopulate the city and demoralise Ukrainians.
  • Russian electronic warfare (EW) capabilities reportedly impacted the effectiveness of select Western weapon systems in Ukraine in 2023 as Ukraine and Russia continue to compete in a technical offence-defence race.
  • Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov categorically rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's legitimacy and outlined Russia's maximalist conditions for peace negotiations during an interview with Newsweek on 25 May.
  • Russia is likely helping North Korea develop its defence industrial base (DIB) in exchange for North Korean munitions supplies, and US officials reportedly assess that Russia may also be supplying North Korea with military equipment, weapons, or technology.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Donetsk City.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has cancelled its annual "Army Games" international competition for the second year in a row, prompting celebration among critical Russian ultranationalist milbloggers.

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