Ukraine’s surprising counter-offensive forces Russian troops to flee

A surprising counter-offensive over the weekend saw Ukrainian troops invade areas around Kharkiv in the northeast, liberating villages and towns and capturing Russian troops flat-footed. The swift maneuvers threatened to encircle part of the Russian army and led them to quickly abandon positions and military equipment as Ukrainian forces approached.

The counter-offensive has recaptured about 1,160 square miles of territory since it began in earnest earlier this month, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Valerii Zaluzhnyy told the Associated Press Sunday. The advance to the east caught Russian forces by surprise and forced several units to abandon their posts as Ukrainian forces seized control of the strategic cities of Izyum, Balakliia and Kupiansk — critical areas for the Russian supply and logistics line in the Donbas region.

It is the biggest blow to the Russian military since Ukraine expelled troops from Kiev in March and liberated Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. almost constant shelling for months.

Russia, for its part, admitted the losses, with Russia’s defense ministry saying troops would “regroup” and head for Donetsk, a Russian-controlled area on Ukraine’s southeastern border. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not recognize the breakthrough on Saturday, but chose to inaugurate a Ferris wheel in Moscow.

The lightning offensive comes as Ukrainian forces are also trying to liberate territory in the south, including: the city of Kherson and the area around the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which has been reconnected to the Ukrainian electricity grid to shut down the last working reactor. The factory has been occupied by Russian troops since March and Ukrainian workers operate the factory. Fighting in Zaporizhzhya, which intensified last month, increased the likelihood of a nuclear crisis at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, as experts called for the facility to be closed.

While Russia still holds much of Ukrainian territory to the south and east of the country, Saturday’s attack shows a Ukrainian army on the offensive rather than on the defensive. It also changes the landscape of the battlefield and disrupts the abrasive dynamics that characterized the war in recent weeks. Importantly, Ukraine’s well-planned and organized attack reveals further weaknesses in Russia’s formation and delivers a crucial moral victory as the war enters its seventh month.

Western weapons, combined with intelligence and organization, work

While this week’s blitz surprised Russia and much of the rest of the world, it’s been months in the making. Ukrainian troops have been advancing towards the southern city of Kherson in recent weeks, both working to liberate the region and directing Russian troops there. While Russian forces were tied up near Kherson, Ukrainian forces launched a stunning attack on Kharkov, threatening to encircle the Russian forces and force them to hastily retreat.

“These are months of planning, but also weeks and weeks of shaping operations by the Ukrainian armed forces,” John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point, told cafemadrid in an interview on Sunday. “Obviously there were other forces in Ukraine’s campaign to liberate their country, ready to take advantage of any openings.”

Even in the run-up to the Kherson and Kharkiv offensives, Ukrainian forces had launched attacks on Russian weapons depots and command centers, which Spencer says helped change the dynamics and clear the way for Ukrainian forces to distract Russian forces and weaken their command and supply chains. take back towns and villages near Kharkov.

“The Ukrainian army has taken advantage of the relocation of most of the Russian troops south and is trying to steer the course of the war, excelling in maneuvers and showing great ingenuity,” Mykola Sunhurovskyi, an expert at the Kiev-based Razumkov Center, told the Associated Press.

The other great strength of the Ukrainian military is access to and use of information, Spencer said. “None of this happens without the Ukrainians over-matching the Russians on intelligencewhether that is satellite intelligence, human intelligence, to know where the weaknesses were.”

Those advantages in terms of intelligence, organization and sheer will to continue the fight have, of course, been enhanced by Western weapons, funding and training. On September 8, the United States Department of Defense committed an additional $675 million worth of weapons to Ukraine, including four howitzers and artillery, as well as ammunition for the 16 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) systems in Ukraine, and additional armored vehicles.

“We see real and measurable benefits from Ukraine in using these systems,” General Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Thursday. “For example, the Ukrainians have hit more than 400 targets with the HIMARS and they have had a devastating effect.”

What does this mean for the future of the conflict?

The ability of the Ukrainian military to plan, strategize and execute such an astonishing offensive also speaks to the lack of preparation and strategy of the Russian forces, Spencer told cafemadrid, calling the Russian forces in the area “not -led”. “Organically speaking, this means they are unable to do even a measured withdrawal,” he said, comparing Russia’s orderly withdrawal from Kiev in March to this weekend’s withdrawal, where troops simply got up and left. supplies, weapons and vehicles.

“[In Kyiv], it was very deliberate, they used artillery to hold the position as they retreated. What we’re seeing now is really the opposite of that, literally just someone finding out a big formation is coming their way, and everyone just runs off and leaves everything in place,” Spencer said. “That, in my opinion, means that as a military vet, they didn’t have the commanders or the junior leaders at the lower level to come up with a quick plan to pull out of their positions.”

While the disorderly withdrawal of the Russian troops from Kharkov cannot – and does not – reflect on all Russian units, it does offer a glimpse behind the curtain of what the capabilities of the Russian forces really are at this point in the war. And while Russia still owns parts of the territory to the south and east, the challenge of preserving that territory will be significant; Ukrainian forces that previously defended its southern neighbors Izyum and Slovyansk are now free to join and reinforce the counter-offensive, according to a situation report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

It is also a moral victory for the Ukrainian army; After months of gradual transfer of towns and cities in the south and east to Russian control, it is the first time that the armed forces have been able to take the initiative and launch a powerful offensive. It is also proof for Western donors that with the right one supplies and trainingforces can be incredibly effective even against an opponent with more weapons and more troops.

Ukrainian troops will now also have access to the Russian weapons and supplies left behind, as the Russians in their haste have failed to mine mining areas, as they did when they withdrew away from Kiev, the ISW said. “They are leaving behind large amounts of equipment and supplies for Ukrainian troops to use.” Those supplies are welcome as Ukraine struggles to convince some western countries, like Germanyto hand over the necessary supplies and some American supplies, like the 155mm ammunition used in howitzersalmost exhaustion.

“This is a battle for cities and logistics hubs,” more than just territory, Spencer told cafemadrid, and “actually changes the entire battlefield account of the Russian lines of communication or their lines of support.” Kupiansk, north of Izyum, was the only railway junction supplying Russian front troops in the region. On Saturday, Ukrainian troops hung the flag in front of Kupiansk City Hall, Reuters reported:.

Izyum was a crucial logistics hub for Russia’s Donbas campaign. Without that territory, it will be impossible to get supplies from just over the border in Belgorod, making it more difficult for Russia to maintain territory.

Despite Ukraine’s major strategic gains this week, Russia still controls the Donbas, the region comprising the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and Crimea, a crucial staging point and supply hub for the Russian navy and territory to the south. “The Crimea is the only way to support the grouping of troops in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions,” said independent Russian military analyst Pavel Luzin. told the New York Times. “Otherwise this grouping of troops does not exist.”

From Sunday evening local time, Russia has also reportedly started reprisals, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that an attack on the Kharkiv power plant has left the city without electricity. “The regions of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy were also completely cut off”, according to Zelenskyy. “Russian terrorists remain terrorists and attack critical infrastructure. No military facilities, just the goal of leaving people without light and heat.”

A screenshot of a tweet by Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy with a translation by Google Translate.  The translation reads: the regions of Kharkiv and Donetsk, the regions of Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy were completely cut off.  Russian terrorists remain terrorists and attack critical infrastructure.  No military facilities, just the goal of leaving people without light and heat #RussiaIsATerroristState

While visiting Kiev on September 8US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised continued support to Ukraine and an additional $2.2 billion in military aid for Ukraine and for 18 other countries believed to be at risk of Russian invasion. While the US has been able to put real force behind its statements of support, the question is whether the West can continue to show solidarity with Ukraine in the face of the crippling energy prices due to Russian sanctions and the potential for severe hardship in poor countries due to the cessation of grain exports.

However, Zelenskyy left no doubt about the depth of Ukrainian determination in a speech posted on his Telegram channel on Sunday night. As darkness fell in Kharkiv and surrounding areas due to attacks on critical infrastructure, Zelenskyy spoke defiantly to Putin, asking:“Do you still think you can scare us, break us, make us compromise? Read my lips: Without gas or without you? Without you. Without light or without you? Without you. Without water or without you? Without you.”


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