Russia steps up strikes and information pressure against Kharkiv to make people flee - ISW

Russia steps up strikes and information pressure against Kharkiv to make people flee - ISW

The Kremlin is conducting a concerted air and information operation to destroy Kharkiv City, convince Ukrainians to flee, and internally displace millions of Ukrainians ahead of a possible future Russian offensive operation against the city or elsewhere in Ukraine.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said this in a new Russian offensive campaign assessment, Ukrinform reports.

The institute believes that the recent attack on a TV tower in Kharkiv is one of the moves of this information operation. In particular, analysts pointed out that Russian state media and milbloggers attempted to justify the strike by claiming that Ukrainian forces installed unspecified air defense communication and coordination equipment on the tower. They insinuated that Russian forces had tried and failed to down the Kharkiv City TV tower and other TV towers in Sumy and Chernihiv oblasts several times, including in March 2022. Russian forces notably struck a TV tower in Kyiv City on March 1, 2022, shortly after Russian forces launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin may intend to invoke the memory of the March 2022 Kyiv City strike and the early weeks of Russia's invasion of Ukraine to create panic among Ukrainians during another challenging moment of the war.

Read also: Kremlin trying to create conditions for justifying possible aggression against Moldova - ISW

Analysts also cite warnings from Ukrainian media that Russian forces are seizing on concern about a possible Russian offensive operation against Kharkiv City to sow panic and a feeling of "impending, inevitable catastrophe" in Ukraine.

"Kremlin mouthpieces are seizing on concerns about a future Russian offensive operation against Kharkiv City to conduct a likely coordinated information operation in an effort to create outsized panic among Ukrainians. ISW assesses that the likelihood of a successful Russian ground offensive against Kharkiv is very low if Ukraine receives renewed U.S. military aid rapidly," the report said.

ISW previously assessed that a Russian offensive operation aimed at seizing Kharkiv City would be an extremely ambitious undertaking that would pose significant challenges to Russian forces and that the Russian military command will likely have to reconsider its objectives for its forecasted summer 2024 offensive effort to account for better equipped and manned Ukrainian forces.

"The Russian military command may attempt to destroy Kharkiv City with air, missile, and drone strikes and prompt a large-scale internal displacement of Ukrainian civilians if the Russian military determines that it cannot successfully seize the city with ground operations. Continued timely U.S. and Western military assistance, particularly the provision of air defense systems and missiles, will be critical to Ukraine's defense of Kharkiv City," ISW analysts said.

The institute recalled a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov from April 19 that Kharkiv City "plays an important role" in Russian President Vladimir Putin's idea of establishing a demilitarized "sanitary zone" in Ukraine to supposedly protect Russian border settlements from Ukrainian strikes.

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