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Russia not to prepare operation to surround Kharkiv - ISW

Russia not to prepare operation to surround Kharkiv - ISW There are no signs of Russia preparing to surround Kharkiv (photo: Getty Images)

The likely offensive operation by Russian forces to capture Kharkiv will face serious challenges for both the Russian forces responsible for its conduct and the overall Russian campaign in Ukraine. Currently, there are no signs of preparation for such an operation by the aggressor's forces, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

According to Russian media reports, some Russian officials have expressed hope that the increase in troop numbers will allow Russian forces to conduct a future offensive operation to encircle Kharkiv.

Sources from the Russian edition Verstka have reported that conscripts mobilized during the spring draft cycle, as well as incompetent reservists, will allegedly be sent to the southern border of Russia to perform auxiliary functions or as border troops as part of efforts aimed at freeing up more experienced military personnel for the advance on Kharkiv.

A source in the Russian president's administration has informed Verstka that Russian military forces require an additional 300,000 servicemen to begin the operation to encircle Kharkiv. The source also added that Russian military personnel hope to capture the city without turning it into another Mariupol.

However, ISW notes in its report that a Russian offensive operation to encircle Kharkiv would be an extremely ambitious project. It would require Russians to conduct prolonged movements in open terrain, which they have not done since the start of the full-scale invasion.

The Institute notes that currently, Russian forces are conducting an offensive operation along the line of Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna, to reach the Oskil River in the Kharkiv region. However, even if these efforts achieve their objective, the prospects for the advance of Russian forces into the Kharkiv region from the eastern bank of the Oskil River are as difficult as, if not more difficult than, the prospects for advancement along the international border with the Belgorod region.

"The reported plan to generate 300,000 new personnel could allow Russian forces to free up relatively combat-effective elements along the frontline in Ukraine for an operation to encircle Kharkiv City, but at the expense of offensive operations in sectors of the front that the Russian military command has been prioritizing for over a year and a half of campaigning in Ukraine," the ISW report said.

The Institute had previously assessed that Russian forces could conduct limited offensive operations along the international border with the Kharkiv region to draw and fix Ukrainian forces. Additionally, such an operation could be an attempt by the Kremlin to respond to calls by ultranationalists to push the Ukrainian Armed Forces away from the border with the Belgorod region to distract Ukrainians from the ongoing Russian offensive operation along the Kharkiv-Luhansk region axis.

"ISW has yet to observe any indicators that Russian forces are currently preparing for an offensive operation to encircle Kharkiv City," the report said.

Operation to encircle Kharkiv

The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, called the information from Russian media about the preparation of a covert mobilization to encircle Kharkiv another hostile information-psychological operation.

In February, the then chief of the press service of the Khortytsia Operational and Strategic Group of troops, Illia Yevlash, stated that the formation of a powerful Russian grouping for a renewed offensive on Kharkiv is not being observed.