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In Ukraine, an extraordinary collapse of Russian defenses

In Ukraine, an extraordinary collapse of Russian defenses
In Ukraine, an extraordinary collapse of Russian defenses


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In Ukraine, an extraordinary collapse of Russian defenses

Outwardly, the Kremlin showed no signs of panic. (a file)

Ukrainian forces continued their rapid advance in the Kharkiv region on Sunday, taking advantage of the extraordinary collapse of Russian defenses and raising the question of how far they can go.

Overnight, unconfirmed reports indicated that Kyiv forces had captured the town of Veliky Berluk, 90 km east of Kharkiv and not far from the Russian-Ukrainian border. The city of Chkalovske has also been restored, and all eyes are on Izyum in a strategic location.

On Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry published a map showing many Russian forces outside the Kharkiv region, without further comment.

“We have started to advance not only towards the south and east in the Kharkiv regions, but also in the north. There are 50 kilometers left until we reach the state border,” the commander of the Ukrainian forces, Valery Zaluzhny, said in a Telegram post.

Zaloghny said his forces had returned 3,000 square kilometers (1,158 square miles) of lost territory to Ukraine since the beginning of September. Estimates of land recovery have risen steadily in recent days.

The advance marks the biggest victory for Ukraine since they drove Russian forces from the capital, Kyiv, in March, and the past few days have been described as some of the most significant for the now-200-day invasion.

Ukrainian forces clearly demonstrated their ability to launch a major counterattack and change the course of the conflict, before a difficult winter for European allies supporting Kyiv’s war effort with weapons and money.

However, the progress presents Ukrainian leaders and leaders with some difficult decisions, as they decide when to halt their progress.

“When you’re chasing a broken enemy, there’s always a great danger of you getting tired and baring your sides,” said Jack Watling, Senior Research Fellow in Ground Warfare at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Watling described the Ukrainian commander in the Kharkiv theater as eager and unlikely to drift away, meaning the counterattack would likely slow to unify, leaving any attempt to completely sweep Russian forces out of the region until 2023.

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The speed of the defeat likely surprised the Ukrainians themselves, who were aiming to cut off the vital supply lines of Russian forces at Izyum, a major springboard for the Russian offensive in the eastern Donbass region. Instead, the Russian forces fled.

“Russian morale is very low and when morale is low the shock can lead to disintegration,” Watling said. “The Russians collapsed and withdrew completely, and I’m sure the Ukrainians did not expect that.”

The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said Ukraine is likely to capture Izyum in the next day or two “if it hasn’t already done so”. Mikita Karakai, a soldier in the National Guard and a former deputy of the Izium Council, said on national television that Ukrainian forces had already captured Izium. The claim cannot be verified immediately.

On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the withdrawal of troops from the region, but described the move as part of a plan to redeploy forces in the east in order to “achieve the stated goals of liberating Donbass”.

On Sunday, the ministry did not mention the withdrawal in a regular televised briefing, but did show a map indicating the withdrawal of Russian forces from most of the territory they recently seized in the Kharkiv region.

In Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday held the last in a series of meetings with his top military commanders, intelligence officials, government officers and advisers.

Outwardly, the Kremlin showed no signs of panic. Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Saturday, stuck to his stated schedule, including the opening of a new boxing gym and a giant Ferris wheel in a Moscow park. Authorities in Moscow held a huge fireworks display on Saturday night to commemorate the city’s founding.

On Sunday, Putin spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron, who urged Russia to withdraw its weapons from the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, 350 km southwest of Kharkiv. The two spoke after the last operating unit at the Russian-occupied facility was safely shut down — to return, for now, to the “risky” level of risk indicated by the United Nations atomic agency on Friday.

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“We have to watch for an unexpected reaction from Putin,” said Mick Ryan, a retired Australian Army general, who tweeted about the military strategy under the headline WarintheFuture. “(Unlike some of his senior military officers) he has shown no signs of believing that the invasion is in trouble,” he added.

Russian military bloggers and other Kremlin loyalists have begun to criticize how Putin’s war — designed to sweep Ukraine in a matter of days or weeks, is now in its 200th day — was executed.

Daniil Bezsonov, the first deputy information minister of the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic in Donbass, said on Saturday that the Russian army has abandoned Izyum and some other localities in Kharkiv.

“Of course, this is the result of high leadership errors,” he said on his Telegram channel.

Russia’s suggestion that its withdrawal had been planned also raised eyebrows among loyal Kremlin supporters.

Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, who sent thousands of his fighters to the front, criticized the Russian authorities for failing to prepare the public for the sudden reversal. “Mistakes were made,” he said in a back-to-back message on Telegram late at night on Saturday.

“If changes are not made today or tomorrow in the strategy of the special military operation, I will have to contact the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the country’s leadership and explain the real situation on the ground,” Kadyrov said.

Mykola Beliskov, a research fellow at the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kyiv, said the Ukrainian military will carefully evaluate the next steps.

“We still need to consolidate the gains, clear the settlements, liberate Izyum and ensure the security of the northern flank of the Russians in Belgorod,” Belgorod said. “So I can say it’s better to be conservative and consolidate the gains, because going forward there are risks.”

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Beliskov said the Russian collapse in the north was in part due to the dismantling of forces to reinforce Russian positions against a counterattack in the Kherson region in the south.

“The Russians did not have the usual defense in the rear,” Beliskov said. “Once the first line was broken there was a void.”

The significance of the retaken area — and relief for Ukrainian forces in the Donbass city of Slovansk threatened by Izium — is the signal that the past few days of rapid setbacks have sent to Russian forces and Ukraine’s backers in the United States. and Europe.

In the face of escalating energy prices and a potential recession caused in part by sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion, demonstrating Ukraine’s ability to reclaim territory could be crucial to its continued support.

“Remember, the consensus in the summer was that there will be a dead end and the lines will be fixed because the Ukrainians will not be able to make a breakthrough,” Beliskov said. “Well, the strategic importance of what’s happening now is that we’ve proven this consensus wrong.”

This makes it all the more important to maintain last week’s gains, but also that Ukraine’s partners draw the right lessons, according to Beliskov.

“We still need surface-to-air missiles to protect against maneuvers of attack helicopters and combat aircraft, and we still need heavy artillery, because it has a lot, and we still need heavy armor and mobility,” he said. “We were able to do it despite a deficit, but we have a deficit.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by the NDTV crew and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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