In the coming weeks, Russian forces may intensify their efforts to capture the city of Kupiansk in Kharkiv Oblast, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its daily report. Russia’s troops positioned in this area are seemingly in a better state than other Russian units engaged in offensive operations in different parts of eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces liberated Kupiansk in September 2022 during the major Kharkiv counteroffensive operation. For over a year now, Russian troops have been shelling the city and other liberated settlements in Kharkiv Oblast, destroying infrastructure and civilian facilities.
Ukrainian officials have expressed concerns over Russian aims to capture Kupiansk and Borova during the winter of 2024, potentially impacting Ukrainian positions along the Oskil River. The report suggests that the Russian forces in this area, notably less degraded than those in other eastern Ukrainian regions, are positioned favorably for territorial advances.
The ISW notes that the configuration of Russian forces, particularly around Luhansk and Kharkiv oblasts, doesn’t currently point towards a large-scale offensive across the entire Kupiansk-Lyman line, akin to the unsuccessful efforts in northeastern Ukraine in the previous year. Instead, Russian activities appear to be focused on smaller, localized offensives. These operations have been sustained without incurring significant losses, unlike those experienced around Avdiivka and southern Ukraine.
Key elements of the Russian military, such as the 1st Guards Tank Army and the 6th Combined Arms Army, have been primarily engaged in the Kupiansk direction. These forces, part of the Western Military District, have undergone considerable reconstitution, bolstered by Russia’s continuous mobilization efforts. This coherence potentially results in more effective command and control, contrasting with the disorganized nature of Russian forces in other Ukrainian regions.
Responding to a 4 January article by The Telegraph, Ukrainian military spokespersons, including Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fityo and Kharkiv Oblast Head Oleh Sienehubov, downplayed the likelihood of a significant change in Russian force composition or an imminent large-scale offensive. However, they acknowledged ongoing Russian operations and a possible buildup of over 100,000 Russian personnel in the Kupiansk and Lyman directions since October 2023.
The ISW’s analysis aligns with these observations, suggesting that while a full-scale offensive may not be imminent, the existing Russian force grouping in the direction of Kupiansk is likely to intensify its offensive operations.
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