The Russian attackers have targeted the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Military expert Thiele is alarmed. He fears “terrible devastation” and sees a “window of vulnerability.”

While the Ukrainian armed forces were preparing for a Russian offensive on the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine in the spring or summer, the current cross-border attack in the Kharkiv region was completely unexpected. Putin’s troops are constantly scanning the entire 1,000 kilometer front and other areas for Ukrainian weaknesses and have found what they are looking for here near Kharkiv.

About five Russian battalions have advanced almost 10 kilometers deep into Ukraine in just a few days. They captured a number of villages and forced the Ukrainian defenders to retreat. Apparently there are no developed defensive positions there. In an interview with the New York Times, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence assessed the current situation near Kharkiv as “bordering on critical.”

Retired Colonel Ralph D. Thiele is Chairman of the Politisch-Militärische Gesellschaft e.V., President of EuroDefense (Germany) e.V. and CEO of StratByrd Consulting. During his military career, he was employed in important national and international, security and military policy, planning and academic positions, including in the planning staff of the Minister of Defense, in the Private Office of the NATO Supreme Commander, as Chief of Staff at the NATO Defense College, as Commander of the Center for Transformation and as Director of Teaching at the Bundeswehr Leadership Academy.

Ukrainian generals wonder where the money went to build fortified defense lines. The Ukrainian president has already fired those responsible. With a total of 50,000 Russian troops believed to be in the region, current developments open up a number of options for deeper operational advances for the Russian leadership.

The five battalions deployed so far are not a major push so far. And yet: The Russian attack near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city with around 1.5 million inhabitants, is initially symbolically significant. With its 42 universities and colleges, Kharkiv is the country’s most important science and education center after Kiev. Even more important is the possible effect on the Ukrainian defense front, which has only been stabilized with difficulty.

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The explosive situation is forcing the Ukrainians to throw their already limited personnel and material reserves towards Kharkiv and withdraw troops from Donbass. This will make it easier for the Russians to advance in this region. If Russian offensive operations continue to be successful, Kharkiv will likely come within the range of Russian artillery. This can lead to terrible devastation and correspondingly large population movements.

The direct capture of Kharkiv in combat, however, is unlikely to be in Russia’s interest, as this requires an enormous expenditure of forces in urban warfare – forces that would be missing for more important Russian offensive operations in Donbass.

American electoral tactics, European incompetence and Ukrainian corruption have opened a window of Ukrainian vulnerability for the Russians. The Ukrainians have had to fight for months now without sufficient ammunition and with too few, exhausted personnel. Ammunition and weapons are now finally flowing from the USA. But it will still take weeks and months until the Ukrainian armed forces are adequately supplied.

Currently, Ukrainian troops are outnumbered 10 to 1 in artillery ammunition. In addition, anti-aircraft ammunition is also becoming dangerously scarce. The once impressive interception rate of Russian missile attacks has now halved to just around a third. Accordingly, Russia can make its air forces increasingly effective. The “glide bombs” in particular have a terrible effect on Ukrainian positions.

In addition, Russian electronic warfare succeeds in severely disrupting modern Western – including commercial – drones, missiles and artillery systems. Also often overlooked in the West: the Russian armed forces have learned from the war. Their combat performance is tactically remarkably improved. They adapt innovatively to the conditions on the battlefield.

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