The threat of the capture of Kharkiv

Харьков. Война. Фотографии

The invaders have amassed more than 30,000 troops north of Kharkiv, part of the Sever group. The Ukrainian Armed Forces leadership is considering two scenarios for how Moscow will use this power.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) command is considering a Russian offensive on Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city, as one of the possible scenarios for the next few weeks and predicts two scenarios for the development of events in this area.

The Russians may escalate their operations in the Kharkiv region, leveraging the temporary slowdown in arms supplies to Ukraine and the reduced pace of mobilization.

However, neither of the scenarios currently being considered by Ukraine's military and political leadership suggests that the enemy could actually capture Kharkiv. Speculation about a possible attack on the city, which has a population of over a million, began after Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned on March 17 his intention to create a "sanitary zone" along the Ukrainian-Russian border. His statements were reportedly influenced by the activities of Russian volunteers fighting alongside Ukrainian forces—the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), the Freedom of Russia Legion, and the Siberian Battalion—who conducted a significant raid in the Belgorod and Kursk border regions of Russia during the spring.

Shortly afterward, on March 22, Oleksandr Pavliuk, Commander of the Land Forces of Ukraine's Armed Forces, alluded to the potential for Russian offensive operations early in the summer, though he did not provide specific details. Pavliuk indicated that Moscow was assembling a 100,000-strong force, but noted that it might simply be used to replenish existing troop losses across the front lines.

On April 9, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in an interview with German newspaper Bild, stated that Putin likely targeted Kharkiv for its symbolic significance. "Kharkiv is one of Ukraine's capitals; it holds great symbolic value," he explained. Zelenskyy added, "We are doing everything possible to prevent this from happening."

Recently, Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces, noted an escalation in the Kharkiv region, observing the buildup and regrouping of enemy troops. "In areas deemed most threatening, we've strengthened our artillery and tank units," he wrote on April 28. He also clarified that there were no indications of immediate offensive preparations in northern Ukraine.

On May 3, Pavliuk told The Times that Ukrainian intelligence had evidence suggesting that the Russians do have plans to capture Kharkiv or Sumy, adding to the growing concern over Russia's next moves in the region.

Kharkiv may face a significant threat from the newly established Russian military group "Sever," announced by the Russian Defense Ministry on April 14.

According to an anonymous representative from Ukraine's Defense Forces, the Russians have reconstituted the Leningrad Military District, now named the Northern Military District, or the "Sever" group. This group has amassed up to 49,000 personnel, with three divisions formed. "Of these, 32-33 thousand are already concentrated in the Belgorod region," the source revealed.

The forces comprising "Sever" include various military units and subdivisions of border guard groups from "Bryansk," "Kursk," and "Belgorod." It also incorporates the 11th Army Corps, excluding the 7th separate motorized rifle regiment and the 138th separate motorized rifle brigade from the 6th Combined Arms Army.

"In addition to personnel, this group should also include up to 360 tanks, up to 860 armored combat vehicles, up to 970 artillery systems, up to 120 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), and four Iskander-type operational and tactical missile systems," added a source close to the General Staff.

However, according to this insider, the current Russian forces amassed are not sufficient to conduct a full-scale operation to capture Kharkiv.

Roman Kostenko, a Member of Parliament and secretary of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security and Defense, believes that the Russians' creation of the "Sever" group could be primarily aimed at safeguarding their own borders, particularly from raids by the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDC). "They are forming it to protect themselves from us, first of all," he commented.

Kostenko also noted that while the occupiers could use the "Sever" group to launch attacks on the Kharkiv region to secure positions on Ukrainian territory, their success depends on Ukraine's ability to mobilize and strengthen its defenses. The MP reiterated that the forces currently amassed by the Russians in the Belgorod region are not enough to capture Kharkiv.

The Defense Forces are considering two scenarios for future developments in the Kharkiv sector. One scenario is deemed less likely, while the other is considered more probable.

The first, less likely scenario, involves Russian forces launching strikes in several directions from Hraivoron, a border town in the Belgorod region of Russia, northwest of Kharkiv. They view the area between Bohodukhiv and Zolochiv as a critical point, located almost at the junction of the Sumy and Kharkiv regions. The goal would be to cut off the Kharkiv-Kyiv highway. A second strike would aim to cut off the Kharkiv-Chuhuiv highway, disrupting access to Chuhuiv, a city to the east of Kharkiv heading toward Kupiansk.

If the Russians succeeded in cutting off these exits, they would put pressure on the Ukrainian Armed Forces' Kupiansk group from the left flank, potentially forcing them to retreat from the left bank of the Oskil River to the right bank, which would represent a withdrawal from the administrative border of Luhansk region to the west.

The second, more likely scenario involves Russian forces conducting operations similar to the Russian Volunteer Corps' raids on border areas within the Russian Federation. This would involve their own raids on the northeastern Ukrainian border, closer to Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Sumy. This approach, described as "a thousand small knife cuts," seeks to create disruption and force Ukraine to redeploy its troops.

This tactic might target the town of Valky, situated between Kharkiv and Poltava. If Russian forces succeed in reaching this location, they could reinforce their military presence in the area.

However, the primary goal of this "thousands of cuts" strategy, according to sources interviewed, is to compel the Ukrainian General Staff to withdraw combat brigades from the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, west of Bakhmut, allowing Russian forces to focus on achieving their main objectives in the Donetsk region.

Colonel General Alexander Lapin, the commander of the Leningrad Military District, is reportedly set to lead the entire Russian operation.

Roman Kostenko noted that the Russians understand Ukraine's challenges with mobilization and that creating new Russian groupings forces Ukraine to stretch its resources. If Ukraine doesn't mobilize effectively, it could become vulnerable along the entire front.

Military observer Oleksandr Kovalenko suggests that the current situation might also involve Russian sabotage and terrorist activities in the border areas.

The primary focus of Russian military activity appears to be the villages of Stelmakhivka and Berestove in the Kupyansk sector, indicating that Russian forces have not abandoned their intent to capture the surrounding villages and ultimately the city of Kupyansk.

Meanwhile, the press service of the Siversk operational and tactical group, responsible for the Sumy and Chernihiv regions, reported that there have been no significant changes in the situation in the border areas in recent days. However, they pointed out that enemy troops continue to be stationed along the border. "The defense forces are preparing for various scenarios, but as of now, there is no critical accumulation of enemy forces and resources that would indicate preparations for a full-scale offensive," the press service noted.

Despite the relative stability along the border, the continued presence of Russian troops indicates the need for vigilance. The Ukrainian Defense Forces are taking precautions and staying ready for any potential shifts in Russian military strategy, which could involve renewed offensives or increased border activity.

The General Intelligence Administration has indicated that Russia's strategy in the Kharkiv region is to conduct extensive artillery, missile, and air strikes with the goal of destroying the city's infrastructure. This approach aims to intimidate the population and disrupt essential services. "This is an operation with limited objectives," the intelligence agency stated. "The enemy's goal is to leave Kharkiv without electricity, water, heat, sewage, and transportation, thereby forcing civilians to leave and depriving the military garrison of morale, material support, and technical resources."

By targeting the city's critical infrastructure, the Russians aim to create a climate of fear and chaos, undermining both civilian and military resolve. This strategy is intended to weaken Kharkiv's capacity to sustain itself and support Ukrainian defense efforts. As Russia intensifies its bombardments, the intelligence administration is closely monitoring the situation to provide timely information and to aid in the coordination of response efforts.

According to intelligence estimates, the maximum number of troops in the "North" group could reach 100,000. However, the enemy will not have enough time this year to gather such a force, pulling it from all possible directions.

On April 30, Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration, indicated via Telegram that it was premature to suggest that Russia could open new front lines near Kharkiv. "Of course, at the same time, we must be prepared and ready for any scenario," he cautioned.

His remarks underscore the need for vigilance and flexibility in response to the evolving security situation. While it's uncertain whether Russia will expand its military operations in the Kharkiv region, Syniehubov's statement emphasizes that Ukrainian authorities are taking precautionary measures and considering all possibilities. This approach ensures readiness in the face of potential threats while avoiding unnecessary speculation or panic.