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ISW experts assess threat of breakthrough in frontline in Kharkiv region

ISW experts assess threat of breakthrough in frontline in Kharkiv region

In the coming weeks, Russian forces may intensify efforts to capture Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region and accumulate the necessary force groupings in that area. However, currently, Russia lacks a sufficiently large grouping in that region for such an offensive, according to information from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

As mentioned in the report, Russian forces have favorable conditions to intensify operations in the Kupiansk direction to achieve territorial gains in more strategically significant areas than in other regions currently targeted by Russian forces.

The experts from the Institute refer to statements by Ukrainian officials that during the winter of 2024, Russian forces plan to capture Kupiansk and Borova (35 km west of Svatove). The capture of these cities by Russia would likely force Ukrainian forces to retreat from the eastern bank of the Oskil River in the Kharkiv region and create conditions for future Russian offensive operations along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kremenna line.

However, ISW notes that at the time of writing the report, Russian forces likely have not accumulated sufficient strength in the Belgorod region to support the commencement of large-scale offensive operations in the northern or northeastern areas of the Kharkiv region.

Ground offensive on January 15th

The report also referenced a publication from the British outlet The Telegraph on January 4, in which an undisclosed source, supposedly close to the Ukrainian military, claimed that Russian forces might initiate a ground offensive as early as January 15.

However, Ukrainian Ground Forces spokesperson Colonel Volodymyr Fitio stated that the Ukrainian military has not observed any changes in the composition of Russian forces in the Kharkiv region or on the territory of Russia bordering the Kharkiv region. He added that the Russian army continued their offensive actions near Synkivka intending to capture Kupiansk.

Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv region, noted that Russian forces are not concentrating in the region in preparation for a large-scale offensive. The intensity of Russian attacks in the Kupiansk direction has decreased over the last three days due to adverse weather conditions. Syniehubov mentioned that Russian forces are using a slowed operational tempo, caused by poor weather conditions, to reposition reinforcements to the front and for the preparation and coordination of units.

"Fitio and Syniehubov’s comments are consistent with ISW’s assessment that Russian forces may intensify offensive operations, though not launch a full-scale offensive operation, with the existing grouping of forces in the Kupiansk direction. Russian forces may have conducted a gradual buildup of forces since Ukrainian officials reported that the Russian military concentrated over 100,000 personnel in the Kupiansk and Lyman directions as of October 2023," concluded the Institute for the Study of War.

Situation on the frontline in the Kharkiv region

Recently, the commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, Oleksandr Syrskii, revealed that Russian forces continue intense offensive actions in the Kupiansk direction and are regrouping in the Lyman direction.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces do not rule out the possibility that the Russian army aims to capture Kupiansk, intending to approach it from the north and east, potentially using it as a foothold for further advances.

Additionally, Russia is reportedly making every effort to capture Synkivka in the Kharkiv region at any cost, which it intends to use as a strategic point for accessing Kupiansk.