The Russian invasion of Ukraine has proceeded at a relatively slow pace, as Russian troops face stiff resistance in suburban and urban areas, especially in the outskirts of Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine.
Historians of siege warfare recognize the developing patterns of encirclement and blockade, coupled with heavy aerial and artillery bombardments. Russians forces seem to be intensifying their efforts to take Kharkiv and they may be preparing to launch a major assault and engage in close urban combat. The Russian 1st Tank Army has not yet encircled Kharkiv, but is engaging Ukrainian forces on a broad front stretching for many miles north and east of the city.
Although siege warfare is often dismissed as “positional warfare,” sieges are often very dynamic, involving complex maneuvers, concentrated firepower, and massive logistical efforts. The seemingly slow pace of sieges can be misleading, since multidimensional siege operations often evolve much more rapidly than observers realize. Siege warfare can involve many different dimensions: blockade, encirclement, starvation tactics, entrenchment, approach, bombardment, mining, sniper harassment, infiltration, sortie, psychological warfare, and direct assault. The methods of siege warfare can be employed in varying degrees and do not always follow a script, making them unpredictable.
The Russian operations around Kharkiv are incredibly complicated and difficult to discern, despite satellite imagery and reports from the ground. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has been reporting on the fighting around Izyum, southeast of Kharkiv. The ISW’s analyses have raised the possibility that Russian forces may be seeking to blockade Kharkiv and bypass it, rather than preparing to assault the city.
BBC correspondent Quentin Sommerville recently ventured beyond the front lines to report on the fighting in Kharkiv. Sommerville and his cameraman, Darren Conway, filed a haunting video report on the BBC website.
For analyses of the developing military operations in Ukraine, see the Institute for the Study of War website.
On siege warfare, see Anke Fischer-Kattner and Jamel Ostwald, eds., The World of the Siege: Representations of Early Modern Positional Warfare, (Leiden: Brill, 2019). doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004395695