A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 5, 2024

The Reasons Why Russia's Attempted Kharkiv Offensive Failed

The Russians misjudged Ukraine's ability to respond to and degrade the initial Russian Kharkiv attacks. In reality, the Ukrainian defense was devastating to Russian units because renewed western aid had already begun arriving, but also because Ukraine knew approximately when and where the attack would occur. 

Additionally, the Russians dispersed their resources - just as Ukraine had in its counteroffensive the previous summer - resulting in too few weapons and soldiers in either attack vector, making it easier for the Ukrainians to pick they off. Finally, Russia's continued abuse of its soldiers makes them less effective on the offensive, where they know they are being sacrificed and will be punished if they do not advance, thus reducing their willingness to take chances. JL

Yevhenia Martiniyuk reports in Euromaidan Press 

Russia’s Kharkiv Oblast offensive failed due to strategic errors and effective Ukrainian air tactics. Russia diluted its offensive power by simultaneously advancing on two fronts: towards Kupiansk via Vovchansk, and towards the city of Kharkiv through Lyptsi. This approach stretched their forces, compromising both operations.Dispersing resources and underestimating Ukraine left Russian forces unable to achieve their objectives. Western permission for Ukraine to use supplied weapons on Russian territory came too late for this offensive but may impact future operations. “The Russians thought Ukrainian forces wouldn’t have enough resources, but they’ve outsmarted themselves,” 

Russia’s offensive in Kharkiv Oblast has failed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed on 30 June.

“Russians aimed to occupy as much as possible in the Kharkiv direction, including the city of Kharkiv itself, but their offensive failed. After initial gains, they suffered significant losses,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Over the past two months, Ukraine’s border Kharkiv Oblast has become the epicenter of Russian aggression. 

The Russian offensive, which began on 10 May, targeted two key directions: the village of Lyptsi, potentially opening the way to Kharkiv city, and the town of Vovchansk, providing access to Kupiansk. 

The Russian offensive in Kharkiv Oblast targeted two key directions. Photo: Deep State project maps

Despite ongoing fighting, neither objective was achieved, and the threat of a breakthrough has subsided.

“We can’t say the Russian Kharkiv offensive has completely stalled, as they wouldn’t be attempting counterattacks if it had. But we can draw an interim conclusion that this offensive operation hasn’t achieved its planned objectives,” Ukrainian defense expert Ivan Kyrychevskyi told Euromaidan Press.

In an exclusive interview with Euromaidan Press, Kyrychevskyi revealed that Ukraine’s NATO-standard air support tactics, not Western permission to use supplied weapons on Russian soil, was the key factor behind Russia’s failures in Kharkiv Oblast.

Target 1: Russia aimed to create a “buffer/sanitary zone” 


Putin claimed Russia’s Kharkiv offensive aimed to create a “sanitary zone” protecting Russian border regions from Ukrainian shelling, not to occupy the city of Kharkiv. 

“We’re creating security zones. A sanitary zone. But for Kharkiv, there are no such plans at present,” he stated on 17 May. 

Ukrainian defense expert Kyrychevskyi explains that Russians view a “sanitary zone” as an area devoid of life. 

“This means destroying the city of Kharkiv as a metropolis, industrial center, and transport hub. It’s not about a ‘polite’ occupation with checkpoints,” he told Euromaidan Press.

If Russians had broken through near Lyptsi, they could have brought Soviet 203mm self-propelled howitzers Pion within range of the city of Kharkiv. These fire 40km, with 200kg shells – almost the size of an S-300 warhead.

“Pion fires once every two minutes. Imagine how much more intensively Russians could shell the city of Kharkiv compared to now. Currently, they can’t hit it with 40km-range artillery,” the expert clarified.

2S7 Pion of the Russian Army. Photo: mil.in.ua

However, Russia diluted its offensive power by simultaneously advancing on two fronts: towards Kupiansk via Vovchansk, and towards the city of Kharkiv through Lyptsi. This approach stretched their forces, compromising both operations.

“The Russians thought Ukrainian forces wouldn’t have enough resources, but they’ve outsmarted themselves,” Kyrychevskyi concludes.

Target 2: Russia wanted the city of Kharkiv

Despite Putin’s denials, Kyrychevskyi notes that Russian actions indicate a desire to capture the city of Kharkiv. 

Russians targeted the village of Lypsi in Khaarkiv Oblast, from where they could advance on the city of Kharkiv. Photo: Deep State project maps

Initially, their offensive targeted Lyptsi to advance towards Kharkiv, but this failed. Although they couldn’t capture the city, Russians continue to bombard it with guided air bombs (KABs) using aviation to compensate for their lack of ground progress.

“Russia’s persistent shelling of the city of Kharkiv stems from their air superiority and Ukraine’s lack of air defenses, not their ground operations,” Kyrychevskyi explains.

Impact of a Russian UMPB D-30 aerial bomb strike on a residential building in Kharkiv, 22 June, 2024. Photo: https://t.me/synegubov


Ukraine still faces a significant air defense challenge. According to 2019 calculations by the Ukrainian military, protecting Kyiv alone requires 4 Patriot batteries with 6-8 launchers each, a $4 billion investment. The city of Kharkiv likely needs an additional 4 batteries. Due to its vast territory, Ukraine must spread its limited air defenses thinly across the country.

Target 3: Russia sought to draw Ukrainian forces from the east to the north

President Zelenskyy stated that Russia’s goal in Kharkiv Oblast is to draw Ukrainian forces north.

“Russia’s intention is clear: to draw our forces northward to facilitate their eastern advance,” he said on 19 May.

Kyrychevskyi notes that this strategy makes sense. However, it isn’t clearly succeeding, despite Ukraine deploying the 38th Marine Brigade to Vovchansk for counterattacks. 

Russian success would have extended the active front by 100 kilometers, adding to the existing 1300 kilometers. However, their advance has been halted, failing to achieve any objectives so far.

Two simultaneous Russian attempts in the east – assaults towards Toretsk in Donetsk Oblast and amassing 10,000 troops in Luhansk Oblast to attack Borova in Kharkiv Oblast – suggest their aim to weaken Ukrainian forces. However, Kyrychevskyi cautions it’s too early to assess the success of these attempts.

Russian assaults towards Toretsk in Donetsk Oblast and Borova in Kharkiv Oblast. Photo: Deep State project maps

The expert believes that the main objective for the Russians were territorial gains. 

“If drawing Ukrainian forces north was their main objective, Russians wouldn’t commit war crimes against civilians in occupied Vovchansk. They’re interested in full occupation, not just hybrid or diversionary tactics,” Kyrychevskyi notes.

Russia’s commitment is evident in their formation of a new army corps within the Leningrad Military District for this offensive.

“Now, the 11th and 44th army corps can’t threaten NATO in the Baltics or Scandinavia because many of their troops died in Kharkiv Oblast,” Kyrychevskyi explains, highlighting the significant resources Russia has invested in this operation.

Why Russia’s offensive in Kharkiv Oblast failed

Kyrychevskyi attributes Russia’s failure in Kharkiv Oblast to two factors:

  1. Russia made a strategic error in dispersing resources. 
  2. Ukraine has successfully integrated NATO-standard air support tactics with adapted Soviet-era aircraft, utilizing Western guided bombs such as the American GBU-39, JDAM, and the French AASM.

The permission to use Western weapons on Russian territory didn’t play a role in halting the Russian advance, as it came after the Russians were already stopped, says the expert. However, it may help push Russians back to their initial positions.

“Striking the Russian supply echelon on their territory could force a retreat,” Kyrychevskyi explains.


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