The surprising counter-offensive by Ukraine forces the Russian troops to flee
A surprise counter-offensive saw over the weekend Ukrainian troops advance into areas around Kharkiv in the north-east, liberating villages and towns and catching Russian troops flat-footed. The rapid maneuvers threatened to encircle part of the Russian army, prompting them to quickly abandon positions and military hardware as Ukrainian troops approached.
The counteroffensive has reclaimed some 1,160 square miles of territory since it began in earnest earlier this month, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Valeri Zaluzhnyy said the Associated Press Sunday. The eastward push caught Russian forces off guard, forcing several units to abandon their posts as Ukrainian troops took control of the strategic cities Izyum, Balaklia and Kupyansk — critical areas for the Russian supply and logistics line in the Donbass region.
It is the worst blow to the Russian military since Ukraine drove troops out of Kyiv in March and liberated Ukraine’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv, which Russian forces have been ravaging almost constant shelling for months.
For its part, Russia acknowledged the losses, with the Russian Defense Ministry saying the troops would “regroup” and move to Donetsk, a Russian-controlled area on Ukraine’s southeastern border. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not acknowledge the breakthrough on Saturday, opting instead to do so Inaugurate a Ferris wheel in Moscowwhich he boasted was the largest in Europe.
The lightning offensive comes as Ukrainian troops are also attempting to liberate areas in the south, including the city of Kherson and the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been reconnected to the Ukrainian power grid to shut down his last working reactor. The plant has been occupied by Russian troops since March, and Ukrainian workers operate the plant. Fighting in Zaporizhzhia, which intensified over the past month, raised the possibility of a nuclear crisis at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant as experts called for the plant to be shut down.
While Russia still holds a large part of Ukraine’s territory in the south and east of the country, Saturday’s push shows that a Ukrainian military is more on the offensive than on the defensive. It also shifts the battlefield landscape, disrupting the grueling dynamic that has characterized the war over the past few weeks. Importantly, Ukraine’s well-planned and organized advance uncovers further weaknesses in the Russian formation and delivers a decisive moral victory as the war enters its seventh month.
Western weapons combined with intelligence and organization work
Although this week’s blitz took Russia and the rest of the world by surprise, It was an operation lasting months. Ukrainian forces have been advancing on the southern city of Kherson in recent weeks, both working to liberate the region and channeling Russian troops there. While Russian troops were tied up near Kherson, Ukrainian forces launched a breathtaking attack on Kharkiv, threatening to encircle Russian troops and forcing them to retreat hastily.
“This is months of planning, but also weeks of design operations by the Ukrainian armed forces,” John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute in West Point, said in an interview with Vox on Sunday. “Obviously there were other forces in Ukraine’s campaign to liberate their country that were ready to seize any opportunity.”
Even in the run-up to the Kherson and Kharkiv offensives, Ukrainian troops had launched attacks on Russian arms depots and command centers, which Spencer said helped change the dynamic and set the stage for Ukrainian troops — by distracting Russian troops and their chains of command and supply weakened conquered villages and towns near Kharkiv.
“Using the transfer of the bulk of Russian forces to the south, the Ukrainian army has tried to direct the course of the war, boasting excellent maneuvers and great resourcefulness,” says Mykola Sunhurovskyi, an expert at the Kiev Army Razumkov Center , said the Associated Press.
The other major strength of the Ukrainian military is access to and use of information, Spencer said. “None of this works without the Ukrainians outperform the Russians in intelligencebe it satellite intelligence, human intelligence to know where weaknesses were.”
These advantages in intelligence, organization, and sheer will to continue fighting were of course reinforced by Western weaponry, funding, and training. On September 8, the US Department of Defense committed an additional $675 million for arms to Ukraine, including four howitzers and artillery and ammunition for the 16 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) systems in Ukraine and additional armored vehicles.
“We are seeing real and measurable benefits from Ukraine using these systems,” said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. told reporters Thursday at Rammstein Air Base in Germany. “For example, the Ukrainians hit over 400 targets with the HIMARS and they had devastating effects.”
What does this mean for the future of the conflict?
The ability of the Ukrainian military to plan, plan and execute such a stunning offensive also speaks to the Russian forces’ lack of preparation and strategy, Spencer told Vox, calling Russian troops in the region “unled”. “Organizationally, this means they are not even capable of conducting a measured withdrawal,” he said, comparing Russia’s orderly withdrawal from Kyiv in March to this weekend’s withdrawal, where troops just stood up and withdrew and supplies, weapons and guns left behind vehicles.
“[In Kyiv], it was very deliberate, they used artillery to hold position while retreating. What we’re seeing now is basically the opposite of that, literally just someone finding out there’s a big formation coming their way and everyone just run and leave everything in place,” Spencer said. “That means, I think, that as a military veteran, they didn’t have commanders or lower-level junior leaders to develop a quick plan to withdraw from their positions.”
While the shambolic withdrawal of Russian troops from Kharkiv does not—and cannot—reflect all Russian units, it does offer a behind-the-scenes look at what the capabilities of Russian troops really are at this point in the war. And although Russia still holds tracts of land to the south and east, the challenge of holding that territory will be considerable; Ukrainian troops, who used to defend Izyum and Slovyansk, its southern neighbors, are now being released to join and reinforce the counteroffensive, a situation report by the Institute for War Research (ISW).
It is also a moral victory for the Ukrainian military; After months of gradually handing over villages and towns in the south and east to Russian control, the armed forces have for the first time managed to seize the initiative and lead a powerful offensive. It is also proof of Western donors that with the corresponding deliveries and training, forces can be incredibly effective, even against an opponent with more weapons and more troops.
Ukrainian forces will now also have access to the Russian arms and supplies left behind, as “the Russians, in their haste, did not operate mining areas from which they retreated, as they did when retreating from around Kyiv.” , according to the ISW. “They leave behind large amounts of equipment and supplies for Ukrainian forces to use.” Those supplies are welcome as Ukraine struggles to convince some western countries like Germanyto hand over needed supplies and some US supplies, like the 155mm ammunition used in howitzersalmost exhausted.
“This is a battle for cities and logistical hubs,” more than just territory, Spencer told Vox, and “actually changes the whole battlefield calculus of Russian lines of communication or their lines of support.” Kupyansk, north of Izyum, was the only railroad junction that Russian front-line troops in the region. Ukrainian troops hung the flag in front of Kupiansk City Hall on Saturday. Reuters reported.
Izyum was an important logistics hub for Russia’s Donbass campaign. Without this territory, it will be impossible to get supplies just across the border in Belograd, making it harder for Russia to hold territory.
Despite Ukraine’s major strategic gains this week, Russia still maintains control of the Donbass, the region made up of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and Crimea, a crucial base and supply hub for the Russian Navy and territory to the south . “Crimea is the only way to support the grouping of troops in the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions,” said independent Russian military analyst Pavel Luzin said the New York Times. “Otherwise this troop formation does not exist.”
As of Sunday evening local time, Russia has also reportedly begun retaliating, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeting that an attack on the Kharkiv power plant left the city without power. “The Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions were also completely cut off,” to Zelenskyy. “Russian terrorists remain terrorists and attack critical infrastructure. No military installations, just the goal of leaving people without light and heat.”
During a visit to Kyiv on September 8thUS Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced further support for Ukraine and an additional $2.2 billion in military aid to Ukraine and WW18 other nations are considered threatened by a Russian invasion. Though the US has managed to put real power behind its words of support, the question is whether the West can remain in solidarity in the face of Ukraine crippling energy prices due to Russian sanctions and the potential for Serious hardship in poor countries remains because of stopped grain exports.
Zelenskyy, however, left no doubt about the depth of Ukrainian determination in a speech published on his Telegram channel on Sunday evening. As darkness fell due to attacks on critical infrastructure in and around Kharkiv, Selenskyj defiantly addressed Putin and asked, “Do you still think that you can scare us, break us, make us make concessions?” Read my lips: without gas or without you? Without you. Without light or without you? Without you. Without water or without you? Without you.”