These are murderous days for Ukraine. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kiev on Tuesday. With his fourth visit since the start of the war, he wants to deepen trust in US aid and “send a strong signal of reassurance to the Ukrainians, who are obviously going through a very difficult time.”

The Russian offensive on the northern front towards the city of Kharkiv is threatening for several reasons.

First, the Russians are gaining ground. They bring the Russian artillery closer to the city of over a million people. Kharkiv has been the target of Russian glide bomb attacks for many weeks.

The combination of both offensive weapons could trigger a mass exodus of civilians and make Kharkiv uninhabitable in a similar way to the border city of Mariupol in the first year of the war.

Second, the Russian offensive is forcing Ukraine to withdraw troops from the southern front to prevent a Russian breakthrough in the Kharkiv region. The Ukrainians had previously been militarily successful in the south.

Thirdly, the deeper the buffer zone that the Russians conquer with their advances towards Kharkiv, the more the Russian supply routes move out of the reach of Ukrainian weapons.

Fourth, the Russian attackers clearly outnumber the Ukrainian defenders when it comes to supplying ammunition, with artillery ammunition up to ten times higher. It is unclear whether US aid, which the US Congress recently approved after several months of delay, will arrive in time for Ukraine to stop the Russian offensive.

From the perspective of Ben Hodges, former commander in chief of the US Army in Europe, the Russian successes depend above all on “whether the Ukrainians have enough artillery and rocket ammunition to fight the Russian artillery and to break up the attacking formations.” The Russians have become “better at integrating artillery and air forces.”

However, Hodges expects the Russians to essentially “continue what they have been doing” and, regardless of casualties, “try to overcome the Ukrainian defenses with artillery and massed infantry.” They are trying to “drown the Ukrainian defenders in Russian corpses.” The units Putin is using in the offensive “are probably no better trained or led than those slaughtered before them.”

Gustav Gressel, military expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), also assesses the Russian forces as “quite weak”. However, the Ukrainians are dependent on quickly receiving supplies from Europe and the USA in order to “recover the slump around Oczeretynie”.

According to Hodges, in order to stop the Russian offensive, Ukraine primarily needs ammunition for artillery and rocket launchers. As well as the agility to move their reserves and forces to prevent Russian incursions and maintain their defensive positions.

“This would be an ideal situation in which Ukraine could use Taurus to attack key Russian headquarters and logistics centers supporting this counteroffensive,” Hodges said. With the German Taurus cruise missiles, Ukraine could “neutralize the Russian advantage in the mass of weapons and ammunition.”

Kurt Volker was US special envoy to Ukraine from 2017 to 2019 and previously US ambassador to NATO. He says Russia has “opened a second front in the north” to force Ukraine to “withdraw troops from areas in the south where Ukrainians have been strong to protect Kharkiv.”

Volker criticizes the USA for the requirement that Ukraine is not allowed to use US weapons to combat Russian supplies already on Russian territory. “I think it is absurd that the US is demanding that Ukraine not attack targets in Russian territory. Because that’s where the attacks come from, for example on Vovchansk during the advance on Kharkiv.”

Volker does not expect a Russian breakthrough. “The Russians are not in a position to take Kharkiv.” But they can come within artillery range of the city of over a million people, he warns.

By Christoph von Marschall, Anja Wehler-Schöck

The original for this article “The Russian offensive is so dangerous for four reasons” comes from Tagesspiegel.