Future of the Conflict: Aftermath of Russia's Failed Kharkiv Offensive

Analysis by the Deputy Commander for Special Operations of the North Carolina National Guard

by Sededin Dedovic
Future of the Conflict: Aftermath of Russia's Failed Kharkiv Offensive
© Chris McGrath / getty Images

Under the onslaught of Russian assault troops, without manpower and ammunition, the Ukrainian army has once again reminded us of its essential strength—it fights for national survival, making it a formidable defensive force.

The Russian campaign began on May 10, and some analysts described it as an attempt to establish a buffer zone near the border with the Kharkiv district. But it was much more than that—it was an opportunity to test Ukrainian units stretching along the 1,000 km front line.

Almost two months later, they passed a bloody test, according to an analysis for CEPA by Doug Livermore, deputy commander of the Special Operations Detachment—Joint Special Operations Command of the North Carolina Army National Guard.

What now? The consequences of the failed Russian spring offensive offer key insights into the development of both Russian and Ukrainian forces in the third bloody year of the Kremlin's "special military operation." After intense fighting in the Kharkiv region, the relative strengths and weaknesses of each side became more apparent, influenced by their strategic decisions, military capacities, and the international support they received.

How will the conflict develop in the coming months?

The failure of the Russian military highlights several critical aspects of their operational capabilities and limitations. Russia began the offensive with significant force, attempting to break through Ukrainian defenses north of the city of Kharkiv, near Vovchansk.

Moreover, this offensive was designed to draw Ukrainian reserves from the vicinity of Vuhledar (Luhansk) and Chasiv Yar (Donetsk), where Russian offensives had failed to achieve the desired breakthrough. (It made some progress in the latter area of operations.)

A Ukrainian Army self-propelled 122mm Howlitzer fires on a Russian position© John Moore / Getty Images

Despite initial territorial gains, the campaign in Kharkiv was halted in early June due to fierce Ukrainian resistance and logistical challenges exacerbated by Ukrainian shelling of supply lines across the border in Russia's Belgorod region (enabled by the Biden administration's agreement on the use of weapons across the border and fresh U.S.

supplies of artillery ammunition and ballistic missiles). Russia's inability to break through Ukrainian forces highlights ongoing problems within its military structure, including poor planning and coordination, inadequate logistical support, and low troop morale.

Despite lessons from 40 months of intense fighting, the Russian military relies on outdated tactics and equipment. Although it has attempted to modernize its forces, much of its military hardware dates back to the Soviet era and lacks the technological edge seen in Western equipment.

Moreover, Russian forces have struggled to maintain a stable supply chain, crucial for sustained operations. The offensive's failure also revealed weaknesses in Russia's flexibility and command structures, which were outmatched by the more agile Ukrainian forces.

This rigidity is also a direct result of poor pre-combat training, with an increasing percentage of men being thrown into the Ukrainian "meat grinder" with little preparation. Since launching the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Russia has lost most of its modern first-line main battle tanks (T-90M and upgraded T-72B3M) and severely depleted its reserve stocks of older Soviet-era models (original T-72 and T-64).

Open-source material shows that Russia has suffered confirmed losses of nearly 3,200 tanks, along with several thousand more armored vehicles and artillery pieces. Despite criticism of the sanctions regime against Russia, these measures significantly impact its military-industrial complex.

While weapon production has dramatically increased with the shift to a full-war economy, these sanctions and the contraction of Russia's petrochemical industry hamper its ability to acquire advanced technology and equipment.

For example, the effect of these sanctions and economic factors have reduced the production of Su-34 fighter-bombers, from 20 produced in 2022, 12 in 2023, to only eight projected for completion in 2024. Russia has lost over 82 of these aircraft, with an estimated total value of nearly three billion dollars.

In contrast, the Ukrainian army has shown significant resilience and adaptability in response to the Russian offensive. After the initial shock, Ukrainian forces quickly regrouped and launched a successful counteroffensive, stabilizing the front lines and recapturing key territories by mid-June.

This success highlights several key strengths in the Ukrainian military. The speed and intensity of the Ukrainian counterattack shook the confidence of the Russian formations facing them in Kharkiv, with the 83rd Air Assault Brigade reportedly destroyed and other Russian troops rebelling around Vovchansk.

First, Ukrainian forces have greatly benefited from Western military aid, including intelligence support and training. The supply of fresh stocks of modern anti-tank missiles, drones, artillery systems, and ammunition has improved Ukraine's defensive and offensive capabilities, directly contributing to the defeat of the Russian offensive.

Additionally, the Ukrainian military's ability to quickly integrate these technologies into its operational strategies was a key factor in their success. NATO countries' support has not only provided much-needed equipment but also boosted morale and provided strategic depth to Ukrainian defensive operations.

Ukraine also boasts highly motivated and adaptable combat units. These formations have shown an exceptional capacity for rapid learning and adaptation in evolving battlefield conditions. The battles in Kharkiv clearly revealed the relative conditions of the Russian and Ukrainian armies.

Russia continues to struggle with systemic problems, including outdated equipment, logistical inefficiency, and poor strategic planning. In contrast, the Ukrainian military has leveraged international support, technological advancements, and high morale to establish a strong defense and some limited counteroffensive operations.

The war is at a stalemate, and unless the Russian military falls into complete indiscipline (as in the case of last year's Wagner rebellion), there are no predictable opportunities for a major Ukrainian counteroffensive. If attempted, it would play out similarly to last summer's bloody and ineffective campaign.