In the coming weeks, Russian forces may scale up offensive operations in Kharkiv Oblast in an attempt to seize Kupiansk, the U.S.-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its assessment on Jan. 5.
The tempo of operations and configuration of Moscow's troops in the area does not, however, suggest a major offensive "along the entire Kupiansk-Lyman line, similar to the failed Russian offensive effort in northeastern Ukraine in winter-spring 2023," the ISW said.
Liberated from Russian occupation in the September 2022 Ukrainian counteroffensive, Kupiansk has been a critical target for renewed Russian offensives, as it serves as a key logistics hub for a potential push further south or west.
According to the think tank, Russia has slowly built up reconstituted and well-rested units to intensify localized operations that began last October.
These troops have reportedly not committed substantial efforts to the ongoing hostilities, thus avoiding losses Russian forces suffered in Avdiivka, the experts assessed.
Russian units operating in the Kupiansk direction are comprised largely of the 1st Guards Tank Army and the 6th Combined Arms Army of the Western Military District, reinforced through Russian mobilization efforts, the ISW noted.
The capture of Kupiansk could help Russian forces push Ukrainian troops off the east bank of the Oskil River and set conditions for further operations along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna axis, according to the experts.
In December, the Ukrainian military warned that Russia is deploying its reserves to capture the village of Synkivka as part of efforts to encircle Kupiansk.
Ukrainian army spokesperson Volodymyr Fito noted on Dec. 16 that Moscow is moving reserve assault battalions to the area to compensate for heavy losses.