Russia moves elite troops to Kharkiv region and masses ships in the Sea of ​​Azov. Interview with O.Melnyk

June 22, 2024

The command of the Russian military is going to deploy marines from the Pacific Fleet to Kharkiv region, but only actual combat operations will show whether they really make the "elite" of the occupational army. However, this fact itself is evidence that more intense operations are planned in the Kharkiv direction, said co-director of foreign policy programmes, coordinator of international projects of Razumkov Centre, military expert Oleksiy Melnyk in an exclusive interview with OBOZ.UA.

— The General Staff reports that the enemy is trying to step up its offensive, 95 clashes took place during the day. The hottest direction today is Pokrovske, the enemy has also become more active in the Toretsk direction. The General Staff says, the enemy is trying to break through the defences of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Do you think that the threat of a breakthrough is real? Which direction is the most threatening?

— About a hundred clashes per day on average have made the sad statistics of the past few months. Sometimes more than a hundred, sometimes fewer. The intensity of hostilities is consistently high.

Aggravations in one or another part of the front indicate that Russia sticks to its plans and believes that it will be able to achieve an operational breakthrough, to penetrate into the rear of the Ukrainian defences. 

When talking about risks, we should be very careful, because I don’t know the situation at our defence lines.

As for the Russian side, we have a more or less impartial picture, but for us, for obvious reasons, many details are not disclosed, and in official statements, in my opinion, sometimes too much emphasis is placed on reassuring society, not to cause unnecessary anxiety and panic.

So, a critical phase is currently underway, Russia has a strategic advantage in the theatre of operations.

— According to the Khortytsia operational-strategic group of forces, the enemy is planning to deploy marines from the Pacific Fleet near Kharkiv. Does this mean that the Kharkiv direction may become the priority for the enemy?

— According to Putin, the Russian command has concentrated about 700,000 troops in the war zone. Whether this figure is true or not is hard to say. But there is also evidence from one respected Finnish publication that Russian bases on the border with Finland are almost empty.

With great probability, we can say that the Pacific Fleet marines, who will now be deployed there, are another batch of so-called volunteers, in fact, mobilized in various ways, who were quickly recruited, taught something, diluted with those who managed to recover from injuries and various redeployments. What is important is that the marines are considered an elite force, and their appearance on one or another part of the front indicates that escalation is being prepared there.

It's hard to tell how really elite and how well trained they are, compared to the pre-invasion contingent, but it's a serious signal anyway.

— The Ukrainian Navy command reported that the Russian strike group in the Sea of ​​Azov is now much bigger than the enemy naval force in the Black Sea. It currently has six ships: three of them carry Buyan-M missiles, another three are large landing ships. The Navy assumes that they may be trained there. Do you think that such concentration of ships in the Sea of ​​Azov may be a forced step, because the Russian Navy feels too vulnerable in the Black Sea ​​? May the enemy be preparing a new bridgehead for an offensive?

— The waters of the Sea of ​​Azov now have an advantage over the waters of the Black Sea because it is hard for Ukrainian naval drones to get there. For a naval drone, it is much more difficult to pass through the Kerch Strait unnoticed. I see it as the main reason why Russia is trying to redeploy ships from the Black Sea to the Sea of ​​Azov — to protect them from strikes. However, they remain vulnerable to drones and missiles, like Neptun or ATACMS.

Oleksiy Melnyk

Co-Director, Foreign Relations and International Security Programmes, Coordinator of International Projects

Born in 1962 in Khmelnytsty Rgn


Royal College of Defence Studies, London, UK (2007)

Air Field Operations Officer School, Biloxy, MS, US (2001)

Squadron Officer School, Montgomery, AL, US (1994)

Defence Language Institute, San Antonio, TX, US (1994)

Chernihiv Higher Military Air Force Academy, Ukraine (1984)


1980 – 2001 — Air Force Active Service (Cadet, Instructor Pilot, Flight Commander, Squadron Commander, Deputy Air Force Base Commander, Participant of two UN peacekeeping operations, Lt.Colonel (Ret)

2001 – 2004 — Razumkov Centre

2004 – 2005 — State Company Ukroboronservice

2005 – 2008 — Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, Head Organisational and Analytical Division — First Assistant to Minister of Defence

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