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What is the objective of the Russian offensive around Kharkiv?

Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka Associated Press A Ukrainian policewoman takes cover during a Russian bombing in Vovchansk, Kharkiv region.

Didier Lauras – Agence France-Presse in Paris

Posted at 7:56 a.m. Updated at 5:11 p.m.

  • Europe

The Russian offensive around Kharkiv, which began a few days ago, probably does not aim to take Ukraine's second city, but to pose a strategic dilemma for Kiev, while the arrival of good weather favors major maneuvers on the ground.

Around thirty villages in northeastern Ukraine were under fire on Monday from Russia, which occupied tens of square kilometers of territory in a few days in the north of the country. But, according to Western analysts contacted by AFP, Russia would not have the immediate objective of conquering the industrial metropolis.

In this area, “the Russian force “is of insufficient volume to take a city the size of Kharkiv”, assures Mick Ryan, retired Australian general, on the X network. “It can, however, pose an additional risk of artillery strikes” , he adds, possibly describing “one of the most difficult moments for Ukraine in this war.”

Since February 2022, Russia has been waging a war of attrition, in terms of men, equipment, opinions and kyiv's allies. And it benefits from a quantitative military superiority that is all the more significant since the $61 billion in exceptional American aid to Ukraine was only released in April, after months of blockage in Washington.< /p>

The Ukrainians “were forced to ration their shells and war materials for months”, thus increasing their losses, underlines for AFP Ivan Klyszcz, of the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS), in Estonia.

What is the objective of the Russian offensive around Kharkiv?

Photo: Andrii Marienko Associated Press Ukrainian police officers evacuate an elderly man in the village of Bugayivka, near Vovchansk, Kharkiv region.

Shortened logistics lines

The American promise “means that this rationing must no longer be so rigorous […], but kyiv must now continue to hold on to as much territory as possible.”

After the failure of the Ukrainian offensive last summer, and with the end of winter and “rasputitsa”, a period of melting snow when the country's plains are covered in mud that is difficult to cross, Russia has indeed taken the initiative.

< p>And it can afford strong losses, explains Pierre Razoux, academic director of the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies (FMES). “Moscow knows that it has a much greater human reservoir and industrial capacity than Ukraine. »

Moscow also says it wants to create a “buffer zone” to protect the Russian region of Belgorod, which is very regularly targeted. And it benefits from a major logistical advantage in this border region.

“The Russians can mobilize air support, drones and artillery by firing from their territory, therefore with lines shortened logistics and air superiority, notes Pierre Razoux. They are in an optimal position. »

On the other hand, Ukraine will have to respond to a fundamental strategic dilemma. It “is obliged to defend the front line, but also strategic points that it cannot lose”, in particular the country's major cities and the roads that connect them to the Romanian and Polish borders, he says. to be worth. “Which is more important, defending a key objective or holding the front line ?”

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Strategic dilemma

Assuming both objectives seems in fact out of reach for kyiv. “And it’s both a military and a political problem,” emphasizes Mick Ryan. “If the Ukrainians decide to hold the ground at all costs, they will lose even more of a smaller and smaller army. If they choose to preserve their army, they will have to give up ground. »

It will take weeks to know whether the Russians make a major advance in the north, and even longer to determine whether they gain a strategic advantage elsewhere on the front.

Ivan Klyszcz does not see a “fundamental change” in Russian strategy: “conquering the entire Donbass region seems to be its biggest priority at this stage.”

On his blog, retired French general and researcher Olivier Kempf points out that the very recent Russian advance “testifies to weak initial resistance”, because kyiv did not want to “consume too many forces in difficult salients to defend.”

For him, it is “now that we will observe the intentions and capabilities of each other”, the ground gained in three days being “not necessarily significant”.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin certainly intends to make an impression, including among Kiev's allies, as the American presidential election in November looms and the possible return to power of Donald Trump, reluctant to continue aid to Ukraine.

“If Ukraine took a knee before the election, it would demonstrate to Trump that Joe Biden is a loser who chose the wrong horse”, assures Pierre Razoux.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116