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The direction of the Russians’ progress in Ukraine is clear. Putin wants Kharkiv again

/ANALYSIS/ One of the first targets of the Russian invasion of February 2022 was the metropolis of eastern Ukraine, Kharkov, with a population of almost one and a half million. Heavy fighting with heavy losses has led nowhere since then, and the Russian army has not managed to break through to the city. It seems they are now trying to do it again.

Consequences of the war in the Kharkiv region. Illustrative image

| Photo: CTK

Through the eyes of Jiří VojáčekThrough the eyes of Jiří VojáčekSource: DiaryAttack on Ukraine began an offensive in several directions. The units stationed in the occupied Crimea very quickly overcame the Ukrainian defenses and “spill over” both to the west towards the Dnieper River and to the east towards Melitopol, Mariupol and the units in the separatist territories called the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics. However, if we leave aside the failed attempt to take control of Antonov’s Hostomel airfield near Kyiv, which was supposed to foreshadow an airborne attack on the capital itself, by far the most important strategic direction of the Russian offensive was eastern Ukraine Kharkov.

The city has a long tradition and an important position in former Soviet historiography. Among other things, it is one of the so-called hero cities. There are only a few agglomerations that received this designation, and all of them were important in a key period of Soviet history – the Great Patriotic War, as the part is still called in Russia today World War II after the invasion of the Soviet Union. The city became famous mainly because four bloody battles were fought for it during the war, before the Red Army finally liberated it in 1943.

Waffen-SS with Panzer IV.  on the eastern front in KharkivWaffen-SS with Panzer IV. on the eastern front in KharkivSource: Wikimedia Commons, Bundesarchiv, Bild 101III-Zschaeckel-189-13, Friedrich Zschäckel, CC-BY-SA 3.0

During the Soviet times, it was also home to some of the less important armories that supplied products all over the world. Among other things, a strategic tank race that brought to the world, among other things, breakthroughs T-64 and T-80 tanks.

The war in Ukraine significantly exposed the disadvantages of the Russian tank school based on the lessons of the Second World War:

Leopard 2A5

Western tanks beat Soviet ones, the Swedes showed in a discreet test in the 1990s

Although there are only about thirty kilometers between the Ukrainian-Russian border and the suburbs of Kharkiv, the Russian army not only failed to capture the city from the so-called running (that is, without a break in the fighting before entering the city), it failed to occupy the Kharkiv agglomeration at all.

Since then, missiles with a flat flight path, artillery and rocket ammunition have been falling on Kharkiv almost constantly. However, the thirty-kilometer section between the border and the edge of the city became one of the most fortified and armed, and at the same time the most saturated with Ukrainian army units from the entire nearly thousand-kilometer long front.

The Soviet T-80U tank participated in the selection of the Swedish army in the early 1990sThey also developed and produced the T-80 tank in Kharkiv.Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0

Deviation from the Kharkiv direction

After the failure of the operation near Kiev and the realization that even Kharkiv would not be able to be conquered by the Russian army, its operations moved to the south. They fought for Melitopol, Mariupol, and in the end it was possible to unite Crimea with the troops in the rebel republics, the Nová Kakhovka dam in the west was conquered, the only reservoir of drinking water for the Crimean peninsula, and the Russian troops reached the Dnieper and, for a time, also beyond it in the direction of Nikolaev.

What lessons have the world’s armies learned from the largest armed conflict of the 21st century:

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to change position on the front near Vuhledar on Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Two years of war in Ukraine: The country has turned into a fair of weapons and new tactics

Since then, the learned Russian generals have focused mainly on wars of attrition, in which the aim is not to gain large territories, but to make the enemy bleed little by little, but without ceasing. The Russians know very well that they have more equipment in their Soviet-era warehouses that they can send to the front and that they can mobilize more troops, because the number of Russians is, in short, three times higher than the number of Ukrainians. Although Ukrainian troops attempted a counter-offensive at several points on the front last summer, the reality of the numerical imbalance of the two armies quickly caught up with them and the counter-attack ended in failure.

At the beginning of May 2024, the Russian army again crossed the border towards Kharkiv, UkraineAt the beginning of May 2024, the Russian army again crossed the border towards Kharkiv, UkraineSource: DeepStateMap, reproduced by Jiří Vojáček

Russian army in recent months, it has concentrated mainly on eastern Ukraine, where it is gradually gaining positions with the battles of Bakhmut and Avdijivka and advancing towards the official borders of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, a kind of equivalent of the Czech regions. Recently, it has achieved several significant successes, and given the hesitancy of Western states in the supply of military equipment and finances for the conduct of war (namely the wrangling in the US Congress), it has managed to take a clear strategic initiative. It seems she has decided to expand it to new battlefields and to try again to capture Kharkov.

A second modern battle for Kharkiv?

While the Russians did not succeed in the first battle for Kharkov, literally a few hours ago the units of the Russian army again crossed the border from the Russian Belgorod area and are currently advancing in two places into the interior of the Kharkov district. It is a very well-chosen tactic in terms of timing, because it is at this moment that the Ukrainian troops are tired after the long winter fighting, and because their supplies are stuck, they are also the most vulnerable. When more weapons come in from the released money from the United States of America, especially the F-16s with the appropriate armaments, the progress of the aggressors will be a bit more difficult. But now, de facto, nothing stands in their way.

The newspaper selected the eleven biggest mistakes that appeared in connection with Russian aggression towards Ukraine in two years:

Evacuation of residents from one of the many Ukrainian cities invaded by Russia.

Two Years of War: Mistakes and Miscalculations in the Context of Russian Aggression in Ukraine

From the current two-pronged approach, we can estimate that the goal is indeed Kharkiv again, and the only strategic question is whether the Russians will try to combine the new assault with the pressure of units from rebel regions roughly eighty kilometers away as the crow flies.

However, the very fact that the Russians crossed the border here gives at least a clear answer to the question of whether they decided to leave the capital of eastern Ukraine in the hands of the government in Kyiv after previous unsuccessful attempts.

Apparently not. According to them, Kharkov is supposed to be Russian.

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