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‘Dilemma for Russians’ after handing over key Ukrainian city

The recapture of the town of Lyman in the east, in territory recently annexed by Moscow, raises questions about how Russia can maintain surrounding areas with supply routes cut off.

Questions about Russia’s faltering military operation in Ukraine continue to be raised as Kyiv announced it was in full control of the key eastern city of Lyman after Moscow’s troops withdrew.

It is Kyiv’s most significant battlefield gain in weeks, providing a potential launching point for increased attacks to the east as pressure mounts on the Kremlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday that his forces had seized Lyman after surrounding it the day before.

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“As of 12:30 pm (09:30 GMT) Lyman is completely clear. Thank you to our military, our warriors,” he said in a video address.

Russia’s military did not comment on Lyman on Sunday after announcing the day before that it would withdraw its forces there to move to “more favorable positions.”

‘A kind of dilemma’

The loss of Lyman is a significant blow to Russian forces, which have used the city for months as a crucial rail and logistics hub in the Donetsk region to move needed military equipment, troops and other supplies.

“Without those routes, it will be more difficult, so it presents a bit of a dilemma for the Russians going forward,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured by encircling Russian troops, is located in the Donetsk region, near the border with the Luhansk region. These are two of the four regions, or oblasts, that Russia annexed on Friday after people voted in referendums, which Ukraine and the West called illegitimate.

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The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said Lyman’s fall suggested Russia was “stop prioritizing the defense of Luhansk” to keep the occupied territory in southern Ukraine.

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“Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts, despite the recent collapse of the Kharkiv-Izyum front and even as Russian positions around Lyman collapsed,” he said.

‘Courage, Bravery, Skills’

In a daily intelligence briefing on Sunday, the UK military described Lyman’s recovery as a “significant political setback” for Moscow. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push further into Russian-occupied territory.

Ukraine’s capture of a town within President Vladimir Putin’s declared annexation territory shows that the Ukrainians can push back Russian forces, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday.

“We have seen that they have been able to take a new city, Lyman, and that shows that the Ukrainians are making progress, they are able to push back the Russian forces because of their courage, because of their bravery, their skills, but of course also because of the advanced weapons that the United States and other allies are providing,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with US broadcaster NBC.

Ukrainian forces have retook swaths of territory, especially in the northeast around Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive in recent weeks that has embarrassed the Kremlin and sparked rare internal criticism of Putin’s war.

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A pompous Kremlin annexation ceremony on Friday failed to stem a wave of criticism inside Russia over how its “special military operation” is being handled.

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Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, called on Saturday for a change in strategy “up to the declaration of martial law in border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons.”

Other Russian hardliners criticized Russian generals and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on social media for overseeing the setbacks, but stopped short of attacking Putin.

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