Russia builds up forces for possible offensive against northeastern Ukraine and Kharkiv - ISW

Russia could redeploy the 76th and 7th Airborne Divisions from Zaporizhzhya Oblast for a possible offensive on Kharkiv
Russia could redeploy the 76th and 7th Airborne Divisions from Zaporizhzhya Oblast for a possible offensive on Kharkiv

Russia reportedly redeployed a battalion of the 76th Airborne Division to Kursk Oblast in an effort to gather an operationally significant force for a possible offensive operation against northeastern Ukraine and the administrative center of Kharkiv, the U.S.-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on May 5.

Ukrainian military analyst Kostyantyn Mashovets reports that Russia is forming the Northern Grouping of Forces, incorporating units from the Leningrad Military District such as the 30th Motorized Rifle Regiment and the 128th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade. Despite appearances of unloading troops and equipment at remote railway stations in Kursk Oblast, these forces are actually proceeding to deployment points in nearby Belgorod Oblast, focusing operations towards the Belgorod-Kharkiv direction.

Read also: Ukrainian forces ready for Russian summer offensive – Sullivan

Mashovets echoed ISW’s assessment that the Russian Northern Grouping of Forces would likely be unable to conduct a successful offensive operation to seize Kharkiv and suggested that the enemy forces may attempt to conduct limited offensive actions or cross border raids into Kharkiv and Sumy oblasts in the future.

Despite the apparent shortfall in necessary manpower and resources to take Kharkiv, any Russian military actions in the area could compel Ukrainian forces to redirect attention from other critical frontline zones.

According to the report, the Ukrainian offensive may not be possible before the end of 2024 or in 2025, but Kyiv has to seize the initiative on the front as soon as possible to minimize the Russian territorial gains and long-term advantages.

On May 2, deputy head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence, Vadym Skibitskyi, said that Russia was preparing for an offensive in Kharkiv and Sumy oblasts.

"The main offensive is expected to start in late May or early June," he stated, noting that the timing hinges on the robustness of Ukrainian defenses currently fortified in Donbas.

On May 3, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials, that Ukraine would be able to hold its lines from breaking despite Russian attempts to make territorial gains by May 9.

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