Your questions answered: What role has the West’s policy against striking Russia played in the new offensive?

With a second front opening in the war and a surprise reshuffle in Vladimir Putin’s cabinet, it’s been an important week for the war in Ukraine.

Readers have been sending in their questions to our senior correspondents and military experts for their take on the changing battlefield environment.

Today, Jeanie asked:

Is Russia taking advantage and conducting an offensive in the border region due to the fact that several Western countries don’t allow their weapons to be used on Russian soil?

Military analyst Sean Bell had this to say…

Thanks, Jeanie, for this very topical question.

Russia claims to have seized nine border settlements as part of a major offensive in the Kharkiv region. Although Ukraine has known for months that Russia was amassing military forces in the region – between 30,000 to 50 000 troops – the scale and ferocity of the attack appears to have caught Ukraine by surprise.

Although only Vladimir Putin and his senior military leadership will know the details of Russia’s military strategy, most military analysts believe that Russia does not have the military resources to mount a significant and enduring second front without compromising the offensive in the Donbas – widely believed to be Russia’s main effort.

However, Putin is well aware that Russia has a window of opportunity to capitalise on Ukraine’s shortage of weapons, and by opening a second front, it forces Ukraine to spread its resources even more thinly, leaving Ukraine more vulnerable on the frontline in the Donbas.

Russia’s military objectives for this new offensive appear to be to create a “buffer zone” to protect the Russian border town of Belgorod. This logistics hub for the Russian military effort is just within artillery range of Ukraine, and Putin has long promised to push the Ukrainian forces outside artillery range – around 30km. 

In addition, Russia wants to threaten Kharkiv, so it’s pushing forward to enable its own artillery to be within range of this major Ukrainian city.

Moving large quantities of military personnel and equipment from the frontline cannot easily be done discreetly – which under normal circumstances would leave Russian forces vulnerable to Ukrainian attack. 

However, in an effort to limit the potential for escalation, the West has precluded the use of Western-provided weapons to target Russian forces on Russian territory. This significantly limits Ukraine’s ability to target Russia’s forces as they prepare for a fresh offensive.

However, although we can speculate on Putin’s objectives, a battlefield is a dynamic environment, and Russia has considerable forces in reserve to capitalise on any momentum achieved during its current offensive.

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