Russian advance on Kharkiv has ‘slowed a bit,’ US defense chief says

Russian advance on Kharkiv has ‘slowed a bit,’ US defense chief says

SINGAPORE — Just weeks after Russian forces broke through the front lines near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the offensive has started to steady, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

“That activity continues, but it’s slowed a bit,” he said.

Defense officials in the West had expected the attack for weeks before it arrived on May 10. That day, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank that maps the front lines, Russia made “tactically significant gains.” In the fighting that followed, Moscow broke through Ukrainian defenses outside the city, which sits little more than two dozen miles from the border.

Since then the offensive has lost momentum for two reasons, Austin argued.

The first is that Russia is hitting firmer Ukrainian lines, which Kyiv rushed to prepare while awaiting the attack.

And the second is a recent policy change from the administration. To this point in the war, the U.S. hasn’t allowed Ukraine to fire American-provided weapons into Russia, fearing escalation. That recently changed, in large part because Russia was using the policy to its advantage and stationing its forces just outside Ukrainian reach.

Ukraine can now hit Russian positions preparing to attack across the border and use American kit to do so.

”If someone’s shooting at you, then certainly this gives them the opportunity to counter-fire,” Austin said.

The rules haven’t totally changed. Ukraine only has permission to shoot across the border around Kharkiv and can’t use longer range weapons to hit inside Russia.

“Our policy with respect to long-range strike into Russia has not changed,” Austin said.

His comments came at a press conference after the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s largest defense summit. While there, Austin met with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, who addressed the crowd and later discussed the policy change in front of reporters.

“Is that sufficient, no,” Zelenskyy said.

While thankful for the change, he argued that there are still too many airfields in Russia that can safely launch attacks into Ukraine. To wit, Moscow has been pounding Kharkiv and other cities with glide bombs, or dumb bombs tweaked to be more precise. These are notoriously difficult to intercept, and many are dropped from aircraft based farther into Russia than the Kharkiv region.

Still, speaking with Defense News earlier in the conference, Estonia’s Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said he doubted Russia will be able to take the city.

But that’s little comfort to Ukraine, Pevkur said. The new offensive has pinned more Ukrainian soldiers to one part of a sprawling 600-mile front.

“The end goal, from the Ukrainian point of view, is the same,” Pevkur said.

Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Read the full article here