The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Ukraine’s Victory in the Battle of Kharkiv

Posted on | May 14, 2022 | No Comments

Bikini model Leanna Bartlett is a native of Ukraine with more than 3 million Instagram followers and I thought she’d make a better illustration for this post than the usual maps clipped from the Internet.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) assessment:

The Russian military has likely decided to withdraw fully from its positions around Kharkiv City in the face of Ukrainian counteroffensives and the limited availability of reinforcements. Russian units have generally not attempted to hold ground against counterattacking Ukrainian forces over the past several days, with a few exceptions. Reports from Western officials and a video from an officer of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) indicate that Moscow is focused on conducting an orderly withdrawal . . .
Ukraine thus appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv. Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv.

The ISW has been very cautious in its analysis, and they wouldn’t be declaring a Ukrainian victory at Kharkiv if weren’t a fait accompli. They further point out, however, that tactical considerations (e.g., the difficulty of crossing the Donets River) likely prevent Ukraine from pushing eastward past Pechenihy and Malynivka to threaten Kupiansk, a crossroads on the supply line of the Russian forces at Izyum.

When you look at a map (instead of looking at Ukrainian bikini models, who are of limited utility in understanding tactical considerations), you see that the Russian salient at Izyum appears as the most obvious target of the next Ukrainian counteroffensive. Why haven’t the Russians in that salient been destroyed? The most probable explanation is that Ukraine has limited military resources, deployed in defensive positions around the country, and that they simply lack the reserve capacity to mount multiple counteroffensive operations simultaneously. Their first order of business was to repel the Russian invaders at Kyiv, which they accomplished by early April, and now, by mid-May, they’ve repelled the Russians from Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. They’ve done this while keeping the Russians largely stalemated in the Donbas area, and also preventing Russia from advancing on Odessa in the south.

Don’t get distracted by Ukrainian-born bikini model Leanna Bartlett, as the important question remains: What next in Ukraine? We can only speculate, but it is likely that the forces that scored Ukraine’s victory at Kharkiv will be redeployed to supply offensive firepower somewhere in the eastern and southern theaters. As obvious as it would be to strike next at the Izyum salient, that may not be Ukraine’s top priority. The city of Kherson in the south — which just happens to be Leanna Bartlett’s hometown, I might add — could instead be the target of the next Ukrainian counteroffensive. On the other hand, the main battle front in the Donbas, in the vicinity of Lysychansk, continues to be very active. Thursday, I blogged about Russian forces attempting a river crossing near Bilohorivka, east of Lyman, that went disastrously bad for the Russians. There are reports that the Russian invaders tried to cross the same river again on Thursday, with similarly disastrous results.

You can click on the map below to see the image full-size.

Yes, I know it’s less interesting than a Ukrainian bikini model, but this map shows the crucial points on the northeast sector of the Donbas front. Severodonetsk is on the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, across from Lysychansk on the west bank. Bilohorivka is about 12 miles west of Lysychansk, so if the Russians could cross the river there, they would threaten the flank and rear of the Ukrainians at Lysychansk, and force them to pull back from Severodonetsk. However, about 25 miles west of Bilohorivka, the Ukrainians still hold Lyman, from which they could advance eastward to threaten the Russian forces attempting to flank the position at Lysychansk. Therefore, if the victory at Kharkiv has freed up Ukrainian troops to fight elsewhere, this region between Lyman and Severodonetsk may present the most pressing emergency.

All this is merely speculation, of course, but the point is that the best defense is a good offense and, having pushed the Russians back from Kharkivk, we can expect Ukraine to mount another major counter-offensive somewhere else in the next week or so.




 

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