Counteroffensive: Ukrainian advance surprises Kyiv and angers Moscow

Ukrainian advance surprises Kyiv and angers Moscow

Soldiers of the Ukrainian army sit on an armored military vehicle.  Photo: Emilio Morenatti/AP/dpa

Soldiers of the Ukrainian army sit on an armored military vehicle. photo

© Emilio Morenatti/AP/dpa

There are signs of a turning point in the Ukraine war. In a matter of days, Kiev's army is making up for losses in territory made by the Russian invaders in five months of bitter fighting. The withdrawal raises questions - even among Russia's pro-war advocates.

The yellow and blue Ukrainian flag is already hanging on the outskirts of Izyum, as well as in the center of Kupyansk. Like Balaklija, which was previously conquered by Ukrainian troops, the two small towns are important strategic locations in the east of the Ukraine. From here, Russia wanted to advance its advance on the Donbass. Now Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin has other concerns.

Kupjansk as a railway junction with a connection to the Russian railway network served to supply the troops. From Izyum and Balakliya, the attackers were supposed to attack the Ukrainian defenders in the Sloviansk-Kramatorsk area, the last of Kyiv held fortress in the Donbass.

But nothing will come of it. Within a few days, Kiev troops have recaptured huge swaths of territory. The Ukrainian General Staff spoke on Sunday of more than 3000 square kilometers. In the Kharkiv region, the army is advancing not only to the south and east, but also to the north, towards the state border. During the course of Sunday, Russian troops withdrew from other border towns.

US experts speak of significant success

According to estimates by US military experts from the Institute for the Study of War, in less than a week Ukraine's gains have exceeded those of the Russians since April. "The liberation of Izyum would be Ukraine's most significant military achievement since March's victory in the Battle of Kyiv," the experts wrote on Sunday.

The rapid advance of mobile Ukrainian units forced Russian troops in the Kharkiv region into a hasty retreat to the east. A group of around 10,000 Russian soldiers had to retreat behind the Oskil River. The Russian General Staff, who spoke for the first time on Saturday after the start of the counteroffensive took a position on the events at all, spoke euphemistically of a "regrouping" in order to bundle forces for the further advance on the Donbass. But abandoned tanks, equipment, weapons and ammunition do not speak for a planned withdrawal.

A turning point in the war?

Still holds Russia occupied a good fifth of the country's territory, including the Crimean peninsula. But at least the mood has changed. For Kyiv, the advance is also important for image reasons, in order to be able to justify further arms deliveries from the West with real results.

"The Ukrainian soldiers captured dozens of Russian tanks, including the most modern ones. Maybe we don't need Leopard tanks anymore?" Ukrainian war reporter Andriy Zaplijenko asked with a wink in the general euphoria. And overwhelmed by the images and reports, his colleague Roman Bochkala wrote: "This is not science fiction. These are the armed forces of Ukraine."

An old clip of the boss of the state broadcaster RT, Margarita Simonian, is also presented with malice, who announced on the TV channel Rossiya 1: "In a hot war we will defeat Ukraine in two days." On Sunday the 200th day of the war was counted.

Pride and wonder in Kyiv

In Kyiv, the mood oscillates between pride and amazement. Many Ukrainians did not believe their army could do that. Sunday strollers don't let the cloudy weather deter them, and people joke around exuberantly. Coffee seller Danylo praises the Ukrainian soldiers. "These are great guys," he says with a smile. The developments made him feel elated, similar to the spring after the Russians withdrew from Kyiv. "The situation will be clear by the end of the year," he hopes, and already sees Crimea within reach.

The exuberance in Kyiv contrasts with the gloom, uncertainty and anger in Russia and among the separatists in Donetsk. The region around Wuhledar on the western front of the Donetsk region is considered a possible new point of attack for the Ukrainians. "It will happen soon, the enemy has wings," predicts the separatist commander there, Alexander Chodakowski. And asks what the Russian army can do to counter this: "I will go into battle with my three mortars and the ammunition leftovers."

Experts: Russia still has great attack potential

The war is far from over, experts warn. Russia's attack potential is still great. But the defeat also revealed massive tactical deficits in the Russian military leadership and the lack of morale among the Russian fighters.

The anger at the military leadership is enormous, especially in the extreme right-wing pro-war camp. Russian bloggers are demanding consequences and resignations. The name of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is held responsible for the army's poor preparation for the war, is mentioned more and more frequently.

And the political leadership in Moscow, which practically ignored the defeat, is also coming under pressure. "Today's salute in Moscow against the background of the Ukrainian offensive in Kharkiv looked blasphemous and insane," criticized one blog about the big fireworks on Moscow's birthday on Saturday evening. Many Russians found it inappropriate to celebrate extensively in the face of their own defeat.

Another episode is symbolic of the Russian leadership's series of mishaps. Unfazed by the fighting, President Putin was shown jokingly at the inauguration of various facilities for Moscow's city birthday on state television. Among other things, he himself set a Ferris wheel in motion - the highest in all of Europe, it was said. A day later, the system had to be taken out of operation due to technical damage. Things aren't going well for the Kremlin boss right now.


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