The Russian situation in the Kharkiv area of Ukraine is growing more desperate by the hour. A couple of days ago, the Ukrainian Army launched an ambitious offensive designed to force Russian forces from a large part of Kharkiv Oblast, which they’ve illegally occupied since February. I posted on the initial stage of the offensive yesterday in Putin’s War, Week 28. The Sitzkrieg Goes Blitzkrieg as Ukraine’s Army Moves 50 Kilometers in Two Days.
Since that post, things have changed radically.
The key terrain in the northern part of the operational area is the city of Kupyansk (at the pinkish circle on the map below). It is a rail and highway hub through which all personnel and freight from Russia must pass to reach Russian forces in Kharkiv and western Donbas. As a reminder, the Russian Army is railroad-based. It maintains nearly 30,000 active-duty railroad repair troops but is very light on cargo vehicles.
Losing Kupyansk not only deprives Russia of the rail node but also places the rail line to the immediate east within range of tube artillery. To use the rail lines entering Donbas from the east requires trains to be rerouted by a few hundred miles. If you want to amuse yourself by studying the Russian rail net and the status of all bridges on that net, you could do worse than this map.
The Russians have apparently abandoned Kupiansk.
Shortly after the main offensive kicked off, Ukraine launched two supporting attacks against Izyum (Izium) and Lyman (Liman).
These two cities may be familiar to you as they were the supply hubs for the successful Russian offensive in Donbas during June-July.
Multiple reports, Ukrainian and Russian on Telegram, report that Izyum and Lyman have been abandoned. There is geolocated video of Ukrainian forces on the edges of both cities, and there is no sound of battle raging in the background.
As I was writing this, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the withdrawal from Izyum.
Compounding the problem for the Russians is that the forces under attack have a major water obstacle to their rear, the Oskil River. The Russians can’t withdraw straight back, and neither can they reinforce. The northern and central routes across the river are in Ukrainian hands, and Ukrainian forces are moving down the west bank of the river without much in the way of resistance.
Pro-Russian collaborators are fleeing the area and clogging the same roads retreating Russian troops, and Russian reinforcements must use.
There are unconfirmed reports that the town of Oskil, at the south end of the main river, is in Ukrainian hands. If that town is taken and the report about Lyman falling is accurate, what the Russians have on their hands is a disaster.
Noticeably absent from the battle have been the Russian Air Force and Russian missile strikes. In my post yesterday (Putin’s War, Week 28. The Sitzkrieg Goes Blitzkrieg as Ukraine’s Army Moves 50 Kilometers in Two Days), you can see the Ukrainians are moving sophisticated anti-aircraft systems up close behind their advancing forces. Russian artillery seems to have been rapidly overrun and hasn’t been a factor in this fight.
The disaster is already rippling far beyond the front line. The headquarters of the collaborationist United Russia party has just announced that the Russian Army is abandoning the city of Volchansk which is on the Russian border and as a result, the Ukrainian quislings are also decamping to Russia.
The Ukrainian offensive in Kharkiv has been underway for about a week, and it will soon run out of steam, and we can expect to see the lines stabilize along the Oskil river. As the offensive in Kharkiv Oblast was underway, the offensive in Kherson Oblast continued. The disaster in Kharkiv will play a significant role there as that front also depended upon the rail lines that have now been cut.
What the Kremlin now faces is a major political catastrophe as well as a military one. It is hard to imagine how Putin continues the sham “special military operation” in the face of this.