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'Fierce' Russian attacks test Ukraine's defenses near its 2nd largest city

Jake Epstein   

'Fierce' Russian attacks test Ukraine's defenses near its 2nd largest city
  • Russia has launched a major attack in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region.
  • Kyiv said Russia was hammering positions with guided bombs, artillery, and armored assaults.

Russian forces have launched a new assault in the northeastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine, using artillery, bombs, and armored vehicles to try and break through Kyiv's defensive lines.

The Ukrainian defense ministry said Friday that it has managed to repel Russia's attacks so far, but noted that "battles of varying intensity continue." Kyiv said its forces are defending strongholds in the Kharkiv region, and reserve units have been deployed to the area. There are fears it could be part of a renewed drive for the city of Kharkiv that Russia failed to seize in the war's early months.

Moscow's forces over the past day have used guided aerial bombs to carry out strikes around Vovchansk, a small city near the border with Russia, the Ukrainian defense ministry said. The city is dozens of miles northwest from the front lines.

On Thursday night, Russia increased the pressure by using artillery to pound Ukraine's first defensive lines, the defense ministry said. Early this morning, Moscow tried using armored vehicles to break through the lines.

"Ukraine met them there with our troops, brigades and artillery. It is important that they can increase their forces and bring more troops in this direction. This is a fact," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, confirming the assault during a Friday press conference with his Slovakian counterpart in Kyiv.

"But our army and our military command were aware of this and calculated their capabilities to meet the enemy with fire. Now a fierce battle is underway," Zelenskyy added.

The Russian assault raises fears that the war, which has long been fought in eastern and southern Ukraine, may expand to a new front in the north, which may be probing Ukraine's defenses for weaknesses. It also follows warnings from officials and experts that Moscow had been building up forces in the area.

The Russian aerial attacks and shelling over a few days could locate and hammer Ukrainian positions. "In a worst case scenario, it creates favorable conditions for armored vehicle commitment," Dara Massicot, an expert on the Russian military at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote on X.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War think tank noted that the new operation is unlikely to result in Russia seizing Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which has come under intense aerial attacks in recent weeks. The analysts said Moscow lacks enough troops in the area, and did not try to attack the city from multiple directions. This could, however, change in the future.

Instead, Russia's ongoing operation likely has other objectives, the analysts said. These include pinning down Ukrainian forces in the northeast to create opportunities for Moscow to advance in other sectors of the front line, as well as create a buffer zone in the area. This could allow Russia to defend against cross-border raids.

Andrii Kovalenko, the head of the counter-disinformation department in Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said the Russian assault resembles a simulated large-scale attack with limited forces carrying out combat reconnaissance.

Moscow has lost troops and equipment, Kovalenko wrote on the Telegram messaging app. Business Insider could not immediately confirm this.

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