Putin’s poorly prepared assault on Kharkiv has achieved nothing but record Russian casualties (2024)

Everyone expected Russia to launch a new offensive in Ukraine on May 9. That’s because May 9 is Victory Day in Russia – the day the country celebrates the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

It’s a symbolic day for a war of choice that’s less about territory or resources than it is about Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s conception of himself as a new Russian emperor lording over a thriving Russian empire.

But Putin’s new Russian empire is a farce, albeit a nightmarishly bloody one. And his Victory Day offensive is a farce, too. Less than two weeks after the first Russian platoons marched across Ukraine’s northern border with Russia, just north of Kharkiv, the Russian operation has ground to a halt after just a few miles.

Even worse for the nearly 500,000-person Russian army of occupation in Russia, the northern offensive has overextended Russian logistics and armor support and forced unprotected infantry to attack on foot. The Russian casualty rate was high before Victory Day. Now it’s catastrophically high as Ukrainian mechanized brigades reinforce the northern front.

It’s even possible the Russians suffered their bloodiest day of the 27-month wider war as the northern offensive culminated. There were a record 1,740 Russian casualties on May 12, according to the Ukrainian defence ministry. That’s hundreds more daily casualties than the Russians suffered in previous weeks.

No one outside of the Kremlin knows what the offensive’s actual military objectives were supposed to be. But in strictly military terms, the offensive almost certainly wasn’t worth it. Not only did the Russians fail to gain control of any important terrain, they also squandered offensive firepower that might have made more of a difference elsewhere along the 700-mile front line.

One possibility is that Russian commanders hoped their 30,000-strong northern force would break through Ukrainian defences and drive toward Kharkiv, 20 miles to the south. Alternatively, they may have intended for Ukrainian commanders to think the Russians were aiming for Kharkiv – all in order to compel the Ukrainians to redeploy every available brigade from the east to the north.

That would weaken Ukrainian positions in the east, easing the way for a separate Russian offensive that’s been ongoing in eastern Ukraine since last fall.

It’s also possible Russian commanders intended to remain flexible – and would’ve shifted from one objective to the other, depending on the Ukrainian reaction to the initial Russian attacks across the border.

In any event, as the northern offensive grinds toward its third week, it’s apparent the Russians have failed to achieve either goal. At the cost of several thousand casualties, the new northern grouping of Russian forces has advanced around five miles to the south along two eight-mile-wide axes north of Kharkiv.

The Russians captured a chain of lightly-defended small settlements in the first few days of the offensive. But when they reached the outskirts of the first big towns along either northern axis – Lyptsi in the west, Vovchansk in the east – they ran into stiffer Ukrainian defences reinforced by several 2,000-strong mechanized brigades that raced toward Kharkiv from the east and south.

There on the outskirts of Lyptsi and Vovchansk, the Russian advance slowed to a literal crawl. In the brutal urban battles in these towns, a “successful” day for the Russians might see them advance along a single city block and capture a single large building – a building the Ukrainian air force might simply bomb into rubble as soon as the Russians occupy it.

It should go without saying that capturing Kharkiv is, for the Russians, virtually impossible under these conditions.

And has the Russian offensive achieved its other possible objective – and forced the Ukrainian general staff to weaken the eastern front in order to stiffen the northern front? So far, no.

A few Ukrainian brigades have left the east for the north, joining other brigades the Ukrainian command was apparently holding in reserve for precisely this northern scenario. But not only are Ukrainian defences in the east holding, the pace of Russian advances on the eastern front has actually slowed as the locus of the fighting has shifted north.

Exactly how Ukraine halted Russia’s northern offensive without sacrificing Ukrainian defences in the east is, for now, an untold story – one that turns on Ukrainian intelligence, munitions stockpiles and the disposition of Ukrainian reserves as much as it turns on Russian planning, leadership and firepower.

It’s likely the much-delayed provision of fresh US military aid, following a six-month legislative blockade by Russia-friendly Republicans in the US Congress that finally ended in late April, made a big difference. In recent weeks, the Americans have rush-shipped large consignments of ammunition and armored vehicles.

It’s also likely that, as has been the case more than once in this war, the Russian military simply wasn’t as powerful and resilient as Putin seemed to think it was ahead of the northern operation. That Putin scheduled an offensive to begin on Victory Day should tell us everything we need to know.

The offensive, just like the whole wider war, is political theatre. And in theatre, appearances are more important than reality. All Putin has to do to make his theatrical offensive successful, for the audience that truly matters to him – his regime and its supplicants among everyday Russians – is for Putin to redefine what “successful” means, and declare victory.

Putin’s poorly prepared assault on Kharkiv has achieved nothing but record Russian casualties (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rueben Jacobs

Last Updated:

Views: 6139

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (57 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rueben Jacobs

Birthday: 1999-03-14

Address: 951 Caterina Walk, Schambergerside, CA 67667-0896

Phone: +6881806848632

Job: Internal Education Planner

Hobby: Candle making, Cabaret, Poi, Gambling, Rock climbing, Wood carving, Computer programming

Introduction: My name is Rueben Jacobs, I am a cooperative, beautiful, kind, comfortable, glamorous, open, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.