A Blog by Jonathan Low


Sep 8, 2022

Ukraine's Surprise Kharkiv Offensive Gains Kilometers, Towns, Captives

While Ukraine's counteroffensive in the Kherson region was expected - and despite that is proving successful - few, if any anticipated the surprise Ukrainian attack around Kharkiv in the country's northeast, which is moving faster than expected and producing a harvest of retaken communities as well as numerous captives like the officer at right. 

Ukraine territorial gains, while not yet confirmed, are in the tens of kilometers, an anomaly in a region where Russian or Ukrainian progress, if any, over the past few months has been measured in meters. JL 

Pjotr Sauer and Isobel Koshiw report in The Guardian:

Without giving details, Zelenskiy reported “good news” from the Kharkiv region east of Kyiv, implying some settlements had been recaptured from Russian forces. Ukraine's surprise counterattack in the north-east Kharkiv region, stretched Russian forces who are also facing Ukrainian attacks in the south. A senior Pentagon official said that Ukrainian forces are making “meaningful progress” on the battlefield. Russia's transfer of elite units from the east to Kherson opened up opportunities for Ukraine to launch attacks near Kharkiv.

Ukraine has launched a surprise counterattack in the north-east Kharkiv region, stretching Russian forces who are also facing Ukrainian attacks in the south.

An official representing the Russian-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces “encircled” Balakliia, an eastern town of 27,000 people situated between Kharkiv and Russian-occupied Izium.

“Today, the Ukrainian armed forces, after prolonged artillery preparation … began an attack on Balakliia,” Daniil Bezsonov said on Telegram.

“At this time, Balakliia is in operative encirclement and within the firing range of Ukrainian artillery. All approaches are cut off by fire,” he said, adding that a successful Ukrainian offensive would threaten Russian forces in Izium, a strategically important town that Russia has been using for its own offensive in eastern Ukraine.

Unverified footage circulating on social media on Wednesday showed what looked like a Ukrainian soldier posing in front of an entrance sign for Balakliia.

Analysts have said that the initial target of the offensive could be the city of Kupyansk, a key road hub for Russian supplies heading south from the border into eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has remained guarded about the military counter-offensive in the east while Ukraine’s army has yet to comment on the alleged new battle plan.

Without giving details, Zelenskiy reported “good news” from the Kharkiv region east of Kyiv, implying some settlements had been recaptured from Russian forces but adding that “now is not the right time to name those settlements where the Ukrainian flag has returned”.

In a Wednesday evening address, Zelenskiy cited “the extremely successful hits in areas where the occupiers are concentrated”, and thanked Ukrainian artillery troops for what he said were successful strikes against Moscow’s forces in the south.

One of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s advisers, Oleksiy Arestovych, said on Tuesday night that “lightning-fast changes are taking place” in the Kharkiv region, in parallel to the southern offensive in the Kherson region announced by Ukraine’s military last week.

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official said that Ukrainian forces are making “slow but meaningful progress” on the battlefield.

“We’ll see how things pan out,” said under secretary of defense for policy Colin Kahl. “But I certainly think things are going better on the Ukrainian side right now in the south than is true on the Russian side.”

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based thinktank, reported on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces probably captured Verbivka (less than 2 miles north-west of Balakliia) on Tuesday, citing geo-locatable images posted by Ukrainian soldiers.

Without specifying any locations, the Luhansk regional governor, Serhiy Haidai, told Ukrainian television on Wednesday that a “counterattack is under way and … our forces are enjoying some success. Let’s leave it at that”.

Ukraine’s military did give some confirmation of the alleged offensive on Wednesday, claiming Ukraine’s army shot down a Russian military Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft near Volokhiv Yar, a town about 12 miles from Balakliia.

Ukraine for a long time spoke openly of its intent to launch a large-scale southern offensive in the Kherson region, forcing Russia to transfer some of its most elite units from the east to Kherson.

According to the ISW, this has opened up opportunities for Ukraine to launch attacks near Kharkiv. “Russia’s deployment of forces from Kharkiv and eastern Ukraine to Ukraine’s south is likely enabling Ukrainian counterattacks of opportunity,” the thinktank wrote late on Tuesday.

Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the Ukrainian attack indicated that Russian forces near Kharkiv were stretched.

“Russia doesn’t have strong reserves in this area that could be sent quickly to plug gaps and reinforce key towns. Ukraine may have a numerical and armour superiority here.”

The Russian government and its defence ministry have not commented on Ukraine’s alleged offensives.

Speaking at an economic forum in the far-eastern Russian city of Vladivostok on Wednesday, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said Russia had not lost anything as a result of its military campaign in Ukraine.

A number of prominent pro-Kremlin bloggers volleyed criticism at the Russian authorities after Ukraine’s latest offensive.

Igor Girkin, a Russian ultra-nationalist and former military leader for the Russian-backed republics in eastern Ukraine, said the outskirts of Balakliia were defended by poorly equipped mobilised forces from the Donbas region who “didn’t know how to use available heavy weapons”. He added that Ukraine also took control of the settlement of Volokhiv Yar overnight.

Aleksandr Kots, a pro-Kremlin war blogger, on Wednesday denounced the Russian authorities for hiding “bad news”. “We need to start doing something about the system where our leadership doesn’t like to talk about bad news and their subordinates don’t want to upset their bosses,” he said.

Ukraine’s offensive in Kharkiv came as Andrei Turchak, head of Russia’s ruling party, proposed to hold referendums on joining Russia in occupied territories on 4 November, when Russia celebrates its National Unity day.

“It would be right and symbolic to hold referendums on this very day,” Turchak wrote on his Telegram channel, the most concrete sign yet that Russia is planning to go ahead with annexing Ukrainian territories.

Also on Wednesday, a new report by the London-based Centre for Information Resilience’s Eyes on Russia said it was highly likely that Russian forces shelled the Russian-occupied Enerhodar, the satellite town of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The centre’s investigators also verified previously published footage of a rocket firing from next to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – controlled by Russia – as well as images of Russian equipment at the plant.

After Russian forces took control of Enerhodar and the nuclear plant in March, the two sides have traded blame over the shelling in both areas. Ukraine has said Russia is carrying out false-flag operations to blame Ukrainian forces, while Russia has said the attacks are carried out by Ukraine.

The centre’s investigators geo-located footage showing the impact of shelling in front of a building in Enerhodar. The footage showed a larger quantity of dirt on the left side of the crater, indicating that the shell came from the right side of the camera, stated the report.

The investigators then traced the potential trajectory of the rocket and concluded that it was launched from the southern side of the Dnieper river in Zaporizhzhia region, an area under Russian control since February.



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