Ukraine launches counterattack in Kharkiv after Russians redeployed south

Ukrainian soldiers gather in Kyiv for the funeral of Ole Kotsin, commander of the Karpatska Sych battalion.

Metin Aktas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukraine appears to have surprised Russia this week with a series of counterattacks in the country’s northeast with military strategists saying Kyiv likely has benefited from the recent redeployment of Russian forces to defend against a counterattack in the south.

President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed that the counterattack took place on Wednesday, saying in his evening speech “we have good news from the Kharkiv region” as he announced that several settlements had been restored without giving further details.

“Now is not the time to name the towns where the Ukrainian flag returns,” he said, as Ukraine supposedly aims to maintain a strategic military advantage. “Every success of our army in one direction or another changes the general situation along the entire front in favor of Ukraine,” he added.

“The more difficult it will be for the occupiers, the more losses they will incur, the better the positions of our defenders will be in the Donbass, the more reliable the defense of Zaporizhzhya and Mykolaiv, and the cities of the Dnipropetrovsk region will be faster. Be able to liberate [the] “The Azov coast and the whole south,” Zelensky said.

Both Ukrainian and Russian sources have commented on counterattacks over the past few days. Oleksiy Aristovich, an adviser to Zelensky, tweeted on Tuesday that “offensive counter-operations by the Ukrainian armed forces are taking place not only in southern Ukraine, but also in the east and southeast.”

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Meanwhile, the pro-Russian military blogger Daniil Bezsonov has been posting in recent days about the local residents of Kharkiv. Report the accumulation of Ukrainian manpower and equipment in the region On Tuesday, an attack was announced on the town of Balakiliya, between Kharkiv and Izyum. However, he indicated, Thursday, on Telegram, that Balaklia “was not taken, the enemy is trying to enter from different directions.”

Throughout the summer, Ukraine said it would launch a counterattack to regain control of Kherson and occupy lands in the south, but made no mention of the occupied northeastern and eastern Donbass.

Redeployment of Russia

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War believe that Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv region are likely to take advantage of the redistribution of Russian forces on the southern front to “launch an opportunistic and highly effective counterattack northwest of Izyum.”

ISW believes that Ukraine’s “tactical surprise” has enabled its forces to advance at least 12 miles into Russian-controlled territory in the eastern part of the Kharkiv region on Wednesday, reclaiming nearly 400 square kilometers of land.

“Russian sources claimed that Russian forces began deploying reinforcements in the area to defend against the Ukrainian advance,” but said that the Russian assembly in this area “was likely to have been weak in strength due to the previous Russian deployment in support of the ongoing efforts to seize the remainder of Donetsk Oblast and support the southern axis.” .

They noted that the Ukrainian forces most likely captured Verbivka, and there were reports that Volokhiv Yar had been recaptured. CNBC was unable to verify the reports.

ISW noted that Russian military bloggers expressed concern that the Ukrainian counterattack was looking to cut the ground lines of communication of Russian forces “which would allow Ukrainian forces to isolate Russian concentrations in these areas and reclaim large swaths of territory.”

The ISW noted that “the level of shock and frank discussion of the Ukrainian successes by the Russian charlatans speak to the extent of the surprise achieved by the Ukrainian forces, which is likely to succeed in demoralizing the Russian forces.”

Indeed, these bloggers note that instead of Kherson being the main focus of Ukraine’s counterattack, it could be Kharkiv.

Russia’s dilemma

The British Ministry of Defense also confirmed the reports of counterattacks, saying Wednesday that “in the past 24 hours, heavy fighting has broken out on three fronts: in the north near Kharkiv; in the east in Donbass; and in the south in Kherson Oblast.”

The attacks posed a dilemma for Russian leaders as to where they needed to deploy forces, with Ukraine potentially seeking to exploit this confusion.

“The main planned effort by Russia is likely to be an advance towards Bakhmut in Donbass, but commanders face a dilemma as to whether to deploy operational reserves to support this offensive, or to defend against the continued Ukrainian advance in the south,” the ministry added in its intelligence update. .

“Multiple simultaneous threats spread across 500 kilometers will test Russia’s ability to coordinate operational design and reallocate resources across multiple groups of forces. Earlier in the war, Russia’s failure to do so was one of the reasons behind the military’s poor performance,” she added.

Russian air strikes continue to hit Kharkiv, Ukraine

Ukraine launched a counterattack to retake Kherson last week, but has since become very mum about its progress in an attempt, presumably, to maintain a tactical and strategic advantage on the battlefield.

Chris Miller, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on Russian foreign policy, politics and economics, told CNBC Wednesday that Ukraine’s counterattacks on three fronts are coming because it wants to ensure that “Russia does not feel any kind of security in the region it controls.”

“A month ago, the debate was about whether Russia would officially annex the Ukrainian territory it controls. Now that seems much less likely just because its control of the territory is much weaker than anyone thinks, including Russia,” he said.

However, Miller cautioned against unbridled expectations when it came to Ukraine’s counterattacks, noting that the war was likely to be long and grinding, in any case.

We shouldn’t expect that [the counteroffensive] It would be that easy… The track record of this war so far is that we have witnessed many occasions [in which] Russia advanced and then retreated, digging into new territories. So I think we should move forward with the assumption that this is likely to happen this time as well.”

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