With Ukrainian forces now on the Russian border, a momentous question arose.
Will Ukrainian troops now invade Russia?
Ukrainian boots on Russian soil could divert forces from the main Russian offensive to the south, embarrass the Russian government. and boost the morale of Ukrainians. It would also be sweet revenge in a conflict that has almost entirely taken place on Ukrainian territory.
However, advancing to Russia would more likely be a huge mistake. This would dissipate Ukrainian military power, possibly incentivize Moscow to use chemical or nuclear weapons, and bolster Russia’s claim that the invasion of Ukraine was a “defensive” war. Perhaps more importantly, it would risk depriving Ukraine of the support of Western countries reluctant to risk escalating the conflict into World War III.
So far, there are no public indications that Ukraine plans to send ground troops to Russia. Nevertheless, in a war where reality has repeatedly defied expert predictions, anything is possible. So far, Ukraine reports that its counter-offensive around Kharkiv in the northeast of the country has advanced to the Russian border. The government posted a video which supposedly shows Ukrainian soldiers posing triumphantly around a boundary stone painted in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag.
It would be the culmination of a counter-offensive that pushed Russian forces back from the gates of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. The Ukraine-Russia border is just 26 miles from Kharkiv, and the Russian city of Belgorod is just 80 miles northeast of Kharkiv.
The first phase of the Russian invasion in February attempted to seize Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and the capital kyiv. But fierce Ukrainian resistance, poor tactics and clumsy logistics thwarted this plan. Moscow then shifted its main offensive from north to south, aiming to seize the entire Donbass region and the Black Sea coast, including the ports of Kherson and Mariupol.
The push south achieved marginal success at best, at the cost of a weakening of Russian forces in the north, which steadily retreated under pressure around Kharkiv. British intelligence believes that Russia has already lost a third of the ground forces which invaded Ukraine in February. There are indications that the Russian front line formations are so depleted that hastily mobilized formations are being sent into battle.
Invading Russia would be a disaster
Nevertheless, an attack on Russian territory would be disastrous for Ukraine, according to several Western military experts.
First, there would be no military advantage to what could only be a token offensive. While Ukraine’s military has done wonders – and Russia’s has been dismal – the fact is that Ukraine is outnumbered and outgunned. The Ukrainian military is not strong enough to mount a push into Russia while defending critical Donbass and the Black Sea.
“If Ukraine tries to break into Russia through Belgorod, it would stretch the Ukrainian flanks, leaving them open to a Russian counterattack and possible encirclement,” retired army colonel Alex Vershinin told Forbes. American and an expert in Russian military logistics. “It would delay everything the Russians are planning, but Ukraine would lose critical formations.”
A Ukrainian offensive would also not inflict much damage to the Russian war effort. “Militarily, there is little point in entering Russian territory,” Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general, told Forbes. “It’s a huge country with a vast network of military infrastructure. A limited incursion would have virtually no military impact.
A more useful strategy would be for Ukrainian troops around Kharkiv to pivot south and attempt to surround and isolate Russian troops in the salient that juts into Ukrainian lines around Izyum, about 80 miles to the south. -east of Kharkiv.
“Once you push the Russian forces back across the border, you have achieved your objective locally,” Steven Horrell, a research fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis think tank in Washington, told Forbes. “That effort and combat power is best spent attacking other Russian forces still in Ukraine.”
“You relieve Donbass by encircling the Russians with these forces, not by diversion across the border,” said Horrell, a former US Navy intelligence officer. “The military objective is to repel the ‘orcs’ [Russian soldiers] out of Ukrainian territory, not to embarrass Putin.
Putin has already been embarrassed by the performance of his army. It also failed to stir up enthusiasm for the war among the Russian public and military, whose attitude appears to be one of fatalistic acceptance. But foreign invasion is still a powerful theme for a nation that has endured the armies of Genghis Khan, Napoleon and Hitler. Putin’s propagandists are sure to exploit photos of the Ukrainian flag flying over a Russian town.
Shooting at targets in Russia, using long-range weapons such as artillery, aircraft and drones, might not be provocative. Russia has already claimed that Ukrainian helicopters hit a fuel depot in Belgorod in April – which Ukraine denies – and Ukraine is interested in buying American MQ-9 Reaper drones, which could strike as far as Moscow. “Command and Control, or Artillery and MLRS [multiple rocket launchers], or logistics nodes supporting Russian troops in Ukraine are legitimate targets for expelling Russian forces,” Horrell said. “But Ukraine should hit them with deep strikes, not ground troops.”
Ultimately, any Ukrainian decision to invade Russian territory must first consider one factor: how it will play out in Western capitals. Ukraine would not have survived – and will not survive – without abundant military and political support from the United States, Britain and other NATO powers.
But the West is carefully walking a line between supporting Ukraine and risking escalation with Russia, which has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, and can expand the war by attacking Ukraine’s supply routes. in Poland, for example.
“The Ukrainians have already proven that they can fight, outmatch and defeat the Russian military,” Ryan said. “They don’t need to go to Russia to prove it.”