Ukrainian counteroffensive surprises Russia and turns the war around | International
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The war in Ukraine has given in the last few hours the biggest and most unexpected turnaround since the Russian invasion of the country by land, sea and air on February 24. The Ukrainian army celebrated this Saturday its biggest advance on the ground after several months in which the positions of the contenders were stagnant. The withdrawal order issued by Russia – the largest since the withdrawal of its troops from the outskirts of kyiv in March – at various strategic points on the eastern fringe provides an unparalleled military success in the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which has been applauded for its speed and surprise both the United States and the United Kingdom, two of the largest contributors to the rearmament of the Ukrainian army, which is undoubtedly bearing fruit.
kyiv claims to have recovered these days some thirty towns in the southeast of the province of Kharkov, whose capital of the same name is the second largest city in the country and is less than 50 kilometers from the Russian border. Among those places that in recent months were in the hands of Moscow, there are some strategic points for the logistics of the invading troops, such as Izium or Kupiansk. Losing any chance of becoming strong in the kyiv region, Moscow said at the end of March that it would focus its efforts in the east, in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, traditionally known as Donbas. It is an industrial bastion with a majority Russian-speaking population that has been at war since 2014 when pro-Russian groups rose up against the Ukrainian government, supported by Moscow.
The Russian Defense Ministry assured this Saturday, however, that the withdrawal of its military is part of its plan. “In order to achieve the objectives of the special military operation for the liberation of Donbas, the decision was made to regroup the Russian troops deployed in Balakleya and Izium to intensify efforts in the direction of Donetsk,” said its spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, who described withdrawal as “distraction measures”.
The enormous Russian loss of ground suffered these days contrasts with the passivity shown by Putin, the man to whose hyper-leadership the Russians have delegated all decisions in the last two decades. The president inaugurated this Saturday in Moscow “the largest Ferris wheel in Europe” while his troops left the key logistics hub of Kupiansk.
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The zone now liberated from the occupation in Kharkiv opens the door for the Ukrainian army to face the battle in Donbas with more guarantees. Surprising, in any case, the rapid collapse of the Kremlin troops. “The Ukrainians kicked the door and the building collapsed,” interprets security and defense analyst Jesús Manuel Pérez Triana, who has well done the calculations of what each side has been achieving in recent weeks. Russia conquered 150 square kilometers of Ukraine in July, the equivalent of the area of Brooklyn (in New York); in August there were more than 400, and now the Ukrainians have liberated almost 2,000 square kilometers in less than a week. “That kind of ride taking enemy forces ahead several tens of kilometers in one day is unusual. The magnitude of the Ukrainian advance takes us to historical episodes such as Operation Desert Storm”, he affirms, recalling the US advance in 1991 against Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president.
Ukrainian President Volodímir Zelenski referred to those 2,000 square kilometers on Sunday. “These days, the Russian army is doing its best, showing its back,” he quipped.
Although the beginning of a Ukrainian attack on Kherson, in the south, was foreseeable, the Russian command did not suspend the Vostok 2022 maneuvers in the far east of the country, between August 31 and September 7. In order not to send an alarmist message, it was decided to reduce the number of participants from 200,000 to 50,000.
These military exercises were led by the chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, whose popular pre-war figure has faded and disappeared from the media since practically March, once a lightning-like offensive stalled. Both Putin himself and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigú also took part in the maneuvers this past Monday. The coldness of the images shown of the three during training contrasted with the warmth and closeness shown in rehearsals from previous years.
Behind that battle for control of Jersón there could be some explanation to understand the rapid collapse in Kharkov, interprets Pérez Triana. “The Russians weakened their deployment in the northeast of the country to reinforce their positions on the right bank of the Dnieper River, anticipating the much-heralded Ukrainian offensive” and “that movement of forces left a gap that the Ukrainians have taken advantage of,” he notes.
The Ukrainian autumn offensive (this season begins in Russia on September 1) was expected by many analysts and the Russian military. One of the most stubborn has been Igor Girkin Strelkov, the army intelligence service (GRU) soldier that Moscow introduced with a combat group in the city of Sloviansk in 2014 to foment a rebellion in Donbas with kyiv in full interim government.
“In connection with this brilliant operation to transfer Izium, Balaklia and Kupiansk to the esteemed Ukrainian partners (…) I propose to hand over the Russian region of Belgorod to the Ukraine of Kharkov. In any case, they are already shooting there with the same freedom as on the other side of the border”, was the latest irony on his Telegram channel from a military man who has demanded total mobilization from the Kremlin since spring because the alternative “is defeat ”.
Despite the superiority it seems to show these days, kyiv continues to demand that its allies send weapons. “It is crucial to continue sending weapons to Ukraine,” said Oleh Nikolenko, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.
“The lesson of the last few days, beyond individual decision-making, should be the cessation of the formation from scratch of volunteer battalions in Russia and the liquidation of the Donetsk and Lugansk mobilized regiments. It is a senseless waste of already very limited human resources,” criticized the well-known separatist military blogger Murz.
“I was expecting something like this. The federal channels said ‘We have not yet exhausted our offensive capacity’, and this ‘yet’ hinted that it was about to,” another well-known pro-Russian separatist commander, Alexandr Khodakovski, wrote on Telegram. One of the few local leaders in Donbas, Khodakovsky warned that Russia must “attack somewhere, in another direction, showing strategic thinking”, or else he foresees a stalemate between the two sides without offensive power “and then it will start.” the main war: the war of ideas and the war of economies. And whoever is strongest in this war will win.”
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