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ISW: Russia looks to seize Kharkiv Oblast’s Vovchansk to pressure Kupiansk defenses

Russian troops intensify attacks around Vovchansk near Russia-Ukraine border, likely aiming to isolate area and pressure Ukrainian Kupiansk defenses, as per ISW.
Vovchansk, Kharkiv Oblast, 11 May 2024. Photo: Suspilne Kharkiv
ISW: Russia looks to seize Kharkiv Oblast’s Vovchansk to pressure Kupiansk defenses

The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) says that Russian forces seem to be rapidly attempting to isolate the battlespace east of the Siverskyi Donets River and capture Vovchansk, a strategic move that could potentially threaten the Ukrainian forces defending in the Kupiansk direction.

Footage from 11 May geolocated to Stary Saltiv (southwest of Vovchansk) shows a Russian strike destroying the Siverskyi Donets Dam bridge. Another video from the same day appears to show Russian forces hitting a bridge over the Vovcha River, connecting Tykhe and Vovchanski Khutory (both west of Vovchansk).

According to ISW, Russian forces likely destroyed the bridges to isolate Ukrainian units on either side of the water features, hindering their ability to support forces defending against ongoing Russian assaults near Vovchansk.

Situation in the north of Kharkiv Oblast as of 12 May 2024. Map: deepstatemap

Russian efforts to disrupt Ukrainian ground lines of communications (GLOCs) southwest and east of Vovchansk suggest that Russian forces are likely to concentrate on seizing Vovchansk rather than bypassing the settlement or extending the front further east along the international border between Russia and Ukraine.

On 11 May, Russian forces reportedly launched at least 20 glide bomb strikes against Vovchansk and are intensively targeting the settlement with artillery, MLRS, and drone strikes.

Russian forces may also intend to use offensive operations near Vovchansk to pressure the operational rear of Ukrainian forces defending against Russian attacks in the Kupiansk direction and draw away Ukrainian units defending in the Kupiansk area,” ISW says.

Securing a foothold in Vovchansk may not significantly aid Russian efforts to advance towards Kharkiv City; however, Russian forces could perceive it as a strategic position to initiate offensive operations towards Velykyi Burluk, a key settlement behind Ukrainian lines in the Kupiansk direction.

Russian advances further south of Vovchansk would require long drives across open terrain, a capability that Russian forces have not shown in the past year and a half of fighting in Ukraine even during the period of most acute Ukrainian resource shortages,” ISW wrote.

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