Through a statement, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated that to achieve the goal of its special operation, it decided to regroup Russian troops in the districts of Balakliia and Izium. Although the Western media has painted the scenario as a big Russian defeat, the Russian move is seen as a strategic withdrawal to focus on other key fronts, which became evident after the call for mobilization.
According to the New York Times, the US assisted the Ukrainian military in planning its current “counteroffensive” near Kharkov by providing it with crucial intelligence. Whatever the Biden Administration’s reasons for making public its involvement in what western media is hailing as a success story—likely with an eye on American domestic politics—it might be factually accurate. The media leak gives the dramatic events of the last three to four days their correct context.
A twist in Ukraine
The Ukrainian military’s surge can be interpreted in one of two ways, either Kiev has severely defeated the Russians and forced them to flee, or American intelligence finally learned of the covert thinning out of the Russian frontline in Kharkov.
The New York Times story essentially supports the latter interpretation of the events, which was previously the subject of hearsay and rumors.
There has not been any actual fighting in the Kharkov region during this Ukrainian uprising, and the Russians’ main objective was, understandably, to withdraw the remaining men from the frontline while being heavily shelled by artillery. No substantial casualties were sustained thanks to the Russian intervention. The new frontline along the Oskol River that had been slowly forming over the previous weeks or months has come into focus.
Russia gears up
Instead, the more significant move came when Russia decided to mobilize. Following much conjecture, the Kremlin has chosen to deploy around 300,000 soldiers out of a potential mobilization of 25,00,000 men. That only represents slightly more than 1% of Russia’s mobilizational capacity. Here it is being referred to as the soldiers whose official status is “reserves,” and every single one will need to undergo special training before being deployed to Ukraine. According to Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu, the mobilization is being carried out to control “already liberated territories’’.
These forces will not be instantly available to defend the Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhie, and Kherson regions during the referendum on whether or not to join Russia because it will take Russia a few months to recruit and retrain (refresher courses) them. The decision was made for several reasons, including the very long line of border communication, the direct involvement of NATO personnel currently running the regime in Kiev, and the West’s threats to destabilize Russia, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
In other words, Russia is getting ready for the battle to become more escalating. Moscow is essentially beefing up its forces to the point where they could handle a significant NATO escalation in Ukraine.
A strategic decision
The decision to leave the Balakleysko-Izyum direction resulted from the Russian military command’s assessment that sustaining such a frontier would be useless. When Russian forces took over Izium in March, it was thought they would use it to their advantage to launch an operation from the north into Sloviansk city in the Kramatorsk district of the Donetsk region. However, it appears that Russians completely abandoned that notion over the past four months, as it turned out.
Without a doubt, the Russian special military operation’s top objective continues to be the conflict in Donbass. As some western media have speculated, the offensive will now be greatly strengthened rather than weakened by the re-deployment. The myth that Izium was the “gateway” to the Donbass and the Black Sea is what confuses us today. In contrast, modern communications allow Russian supply lines to the Donbass to continue even without a northern “gateway.”
Second, the city of Izium is in a thickly forested area to the West, where Ukrainian forces had built up defenses, and the Russian presence had already been attacked. In other words, maintaining a presence in Izium would only be a drainage of resources and human endeavors.
A war with the collective west
However, the perception of the Balakleysko-Izyum area generated criticism throughout Russia regarding the military command’s poor handling of the situation; some of it was even directed at President Putin. There is pressure on the military command to demonstrate “results” in the Donbass battle.
Russia’s approach of relying on militia groups rather than actual troops from its armed forces to perform the heavy work may also need to be rethought. In truth, the Kharkov Region has thus far mainly been a sideshow. In contrast to Kherson and Zaporozhia in the south in September, there are no preparations to organize any referendums in Kharkov, which speaks for itself. That is why, in modifying its strategy, Russia will be deploying troops to face a threat now under complete command and control of NATO.
It is not as though the military command has abandoned the post, even though the reorganization of forces in the Kharkov region will let the Russian troops focus on establishing complete control over the territory of Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhia, and Kherson regions.
With only the barest amount of force and precise strikes that spare vital infrastructure, Russia is still trying to win the war softly at a time of a war with the ‘’collective west’’. Even though the current counteroffensives are defeated, showing that Russia is still well on the way to victory, it suggests that Russia must increase force deployment. However, Russia now needs to take advantage of its sizable force generation capabilities and deny Ukraine access to its population pools, or achieving the objectives of ‘special military operation’ may be slower and more expensive than necessary.