A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 27, 2024

Russia's Kharkiv Assault Is Failing Because It Is "Strategically Incoherent"

The Russians are failing in Kharkiv oblast because they too few troops for a major offensive to take Kharkiv city, but are taking too many losses for it to be a feint. In fact, the Kremlin is reportedly furious at the embarrassing failure and may be making plans to send in more troops, which is the exact opposite of the ostensible strategic rationale about which the New York Times and other supposedly knowledgeable media have been crowing, incorrectly, as usual. 

The result is that Ukrainian defenders in the east (Bakhmut, Avdiivka) and south (Kherson) may actually benefit from Russia's poor war leadership once again. JL

Phillips O'Brien reports in his substack:

The Ukrainian Army not only stopped the Kharkiv offensive, but are counterattackingRussian losses have been very high in soldiers and equipment, sign of a strategically incoherent operation. This was supposedly a brilliant feint, designed by the Russians to draw away Ukrainian forces. Then there were reports that this might be an attempt to encircle Kharkiv. (But) the Russians don’t seem to be doing either. They are losing troops and equipment at a much higher rate than you would want with a feint, but don’t have enough force to make a serious advance on Kharkiv.

The Russian Kharkiv Offensive does not seem to know what it is

Lets start with the map. In the last week the Russian Kharkiv Offensive has hardly advanced at all. Here is the Deep State map as of this morning.

Here it was last Sunday

And during this week the Russians have been pressing hard to expand their holding, in particular to take Vovchansk. Indeed Russian losses seem to be extremely high in this operation—as it is bogging down and making little advance. Its interesting to see the official Ukrainian claims about the fighting. The Ukrainian Army claimed that not only have they stopped the Kharkiv Offensive, but that they were counterattacking in places.

“The Ukrainian defence forces have stopped Russian troops in the Kharkiv sector.

“The situation is under control, counter-offensive actions are under way.”

President Zelensky made similar and in one case even more dramatic claims. After a Friday visit to Kharkiv, he stated in his evening address that the situation in Kharkiv was in control.

Now our warriors have managed to take combat control of the border area, where the Russian occupiers have entered.

While in Kharkiv, and speaking with reporters, Zelensky claimed that Russian losses in their offensive had been staggeringly out of proportion—8 Russian casualties for every Ukrainian.

"Their breakthrough in the direction of Kharkiv, which occurred a little over two weeks ago, [resulted in] military casualties of 1 to 8 – one Ukrainian to eight Russians,"

Now, such claims need to be taken with a massive grain of salt—and there is no way to verify the casualty claim (which looks extreme) however its the tone of them that is interesting. The Ukrainians do seem to think the Russian Kharkiv Offensive is bogged down and causing very large Russian losses. Ive checked with a few people far more in the know than I, and while they say Zelensky is almost certainly exaggerating, they also say Russian losses have been very high in soldiers and equipment.

This is actually a sign of a strategically incoherent operation. First we were told that this was some kind of brilliant feint, designed cleverly by the Russians to draw away Ukrainian forces—such as in this piece by the New York Times. Then there were reports in the Economist that this might have been an attempt to partially encircle Kharkiv itself.

The problem with both of these descriptions is that the Russians don’t seem to be doing either. They are losing troops and equipment at a much higher rate than you would want with a feint, but they certainly don’t have anything like enough force to make a serious advance on Kharkiv. Indeed, if you look at the Institute for the Study of War report of a few hours ago, there are more and more claims that the Ukrainians are contesting the initiative in Kharkiv. And reports are that the Russians will be sending in even more forces in the future to try and rectify the situation.

Moreover, the Russians are also making only small advances (at high cost) in the South at the same time. Its worth taking a look at the map of the Chasiv Yar front this week. Here it is this morning.

and here it was last Sunday.

So far Ukrainian defenses are holding well.

But you wont read any stories that the Russian offensives are scattered, unsupportable with each other, and leading to extremely high casualties—however they are.

PS. I know there were a number of reports this week that the Russians were offering to freeze the present conflict and start negotiations. I dont take this seriously for a number of reasons. Most importantly, Putin is playing this out until the US presidential elections—in the hope that his ally Trump gets elected. This offer, it is was made, is a bluff to draw things out to the election. I would not take it seriously.


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