Since Friday, Russia has claimed the capture of around ten localities in northeastern Ukraine, where thousands of civilians have been evacuated due to fierce fighting.

“All areas of the northern border are under enemy fire almost 24 hours a day. The situation is difficult,” said Kharkiv region governor Oleg Synegubov.

The commander-in-chief of Ukrainian forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, admitted that the situation had “significantly deteriorated” and remained “complicated.”

Ukrainian forces are “doing everything they can to maintain their defense lines and inflict damage on the enemy,” he added.

On Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry reported the capture of four additional villages, some located within 50 kilometers of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

We are still far from it. The villages recaptured by the Russian army fell with little resistance, notes McGill University political science professor Maria Popova.

“This is not a real breakthrough for Russia,” she notes.

Conversely, Kharkiv is heavily fortified. Even if the Russian army managed to approach it, it would come up against kilometers of trenches, dug in recent months in preparation for a ground assault.

“Several analysts agree that there are not enough Russian troops to seize the city of Kharkiv,” underlines Justin Massie, professor of political science at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

But they could bomb it. “The city is quite protected in that the Russian army is not within firing range. This would no longer be the case if [she] continued to move forward,” he continues.

According to the expert, it could also be a “diversion attempt” with the aim of stripping the Ukrainian front in the east of the country, where the fighting continues.

“Despite all the events happening in the region, Kharkiv is calm. We don’t see people leaving,” its mayor, Igor Terekhov, said on Sunday.

Although it is still early to say, it is clear that the tide is turning in Russia’s favor.

After two years of war, Ukraine is struggling to recruit soldiers. It lacks ammunition, while international aid is slow to be delivered.

The United States on Friday announced $400 million in new military aid to Ukraine to help it face the Russian offensive, which promises to “intensify.”

It was the third US aid announcement in less than three weeks.

However, it will take months before all the aid is delivered, estimates Justin Massie. Same thing for the recruitment and training of new Ukrainian soldiers.

Meanwhile, Russia is moving forward little by little. “The Russian army is making marginal gains, but these have been accumulating for several months,” observes the professor.

“Nine villages is not nothing,” remarks Dominique Arel, professor at the University of Ottawa and holder of the Chair in Ukrainian Studies.

According to him, the recapture of around ten localities by the Russian army must be all the more difficult to swallow as they had been captured and then liberated by the Ukrainian army at the start of the Russian offensive.

“Residents are reliving the first weeks of the war,” he says.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday fired Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in office since 2012.

He will be replaced by Andrei Beloussov, an economist, and will become secretary of the Security Council, according to a decree published by Moscow. No explanation was provided.

“Today, on the battlefield, the one who wins is the one who is the most open to innovation,” simply justified the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov.

Despite a series of humiliating setbacks in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin maintained his confidence in Sergei Shoigu.

In the summer of 2023, he was directly targeted during the abortive revolt by fighters from Wagner’s paramilitary group. “This bastard will be arrested,” said Yevgeny Prigozhin before sending his men towards Moscow.

Andreï Beloussov, his replacement, has training as an economist and no military background. He was first vice-president of the last government since 2020 and one of Vladimir Putin’s main economic advisers in recent years.