Ukraine surprising counteroffensive forces Russian troops to flee
A surprise counteroffensive on the weekend was a success as Ukrainian forces advance into the areas surrounding Kharkiv in the north and liberated cities and villages and took Russian troops on the run. The rapid movements threatened to surround a large portion of the Russian army and forced the troops to swiftly abandon their positions and military equipment as Ukrainian troops advanced.
The counteroffensive has captured approximately 1,160 square miles of territory since it started in earnest this month, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Gen. Valeri Zaluzhnyy, told The Associated Press Sunday. The push to the east was able to catch Russian forces off guard and caused several units to leave their positions. Ukrainian forces seized control of the strategically important cities of Izyum, Balakliia, and Kupiansk crucial zones for the Russian supply line and logistics in the Donbas region.
It’s the biggest blow to Russia’s military Russian army since Ukraine forced forces out of Kyiv in March. It also it frees the second-largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv, which Russian forces have destroyed with constant bombardment for the past few months.
Russia has, on the other hand, acknowledged the loss, and Russia’s Russian Defense Ministry said troops will “regroup” and head to Donetsk which is a Russian-controlled region that borders Ukraine’s southeastern region. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not acknowledge the progress made on Saturday, choosing instead to open the Ferris wheel in Moscow and boasting that it was the biggest in Europe.
The lightning attack comes just as Ukrainian soldiers are also trying free areas in the south, including Kherson, the city of Kherson as well as the region surrounding Zaporizhzhia. Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been connected with the Ukrainian power grid to shut down the final operating reactor. The plant has been held by Russian soldiers since March and Ukrainian employees operating the facility. The fighting at Zaporizhzhia was escalating this month, raising the risk of a nuclear disaster at Europe’s biggest nuclear power station as experts demanded the plant be removed from operation.
Although Russia retains a large part of Ukrainian territory in the east and south region of Ukraine Saturday’s move is a sign of the Ukrainian army on the offensive instead of the defensive. The battle also changes the terrain, breaking up the stalemate dynamics that have characterized the war over the last few weeks. The most important thing is that Ukraine’s carefully planned and coordinated push exposes additional weakness in the Russian formation, and is the necessary moral victory, as the war extends into the seventh month.
Western weapons, paired with intelligence and organization are working
While this week’s bombing caused Russia and a large portion of the world by storm, it’s been a long time since its creation. Ukrainian forces were advancing into Kherson city Kherson in the last few weeks, working towards the end of the conflict and leading Russian forces in the region. While Russian troops were confined in the vicinity of Kherson, Ukrainian forces mounted an impressive assault on Kharkiv in the hope of encircling Russian forces and forcing them to withdraw quickly.
“This is months of planning, but also weeks and weeks of shaping operations by the Ukrainian forces,” John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point explained to Vox on Sunday. “There were other forces in the Ukrainian campaign to liberate their lands, ready to take advantage of any openings.”
In the days leading up to Kherson as well as Kharkiv assaults Ukrainian forces had launched an attack against Russian weapon depots and command centers. These attacks, Spencer claimed helped shift the dynamic and set the scene distracting Russian troops while weakening their supply chain and command to allow Ukrainian troops to seize cities and towns in the vicinity of Kharkiv.
“The Ukrainian army has taken advantage of the relocation of the bulk of the Russian forces to the south and is trying to direct the course of the war, excelling in maneuver and showing great ingenuity,” Mykola Sunhurovskyi who is an expert at the Razumkov Centre in Kyiv, informed The Associated Press.
Another advantage for this Ukrainian military is access to and the use of data, Spencer said. “None of this is done without the Ukrainians over-matching the Russians on intelligence, whether that’s satellite intelligence, human intelligence, to know where weaknesses were.”
The advantages of information, organization, and the sheer determination to fight for the future are, naturally, enhanced by Western equipment, funding, and even training. On September 8th on, the US Department of Defense committed an additional $675 million of weapons to Ukraine that included artillery and four howitzers along with ammunition to 16 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) systems in Ukraine and other armored vehicles.
“We are seeing real and measurable gains from Ukraine in the use of these systems,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to the media in Rammstein Air Base in Germany on Thursday. “For example, the Ukrainians have struck over 400 targets with the HIMARS and they’ve had a devastating effect.”
What do these developments mean in the long run war?
The Ukrainian army’s ability to strategize, plan, and then execute a dramatic offensive is also a sign of the Russian forces lacking strategy and preparation, Spencer told Vox, declaring Russian forces in the area “un-led.” “Organizationally, it means they can’t even do a measured withdrawal,” Spencer explained in a comparison of Russia’s orderly departure from Kyiv in March this weekend’s retreat. troops simply left leaving behind supplies, weapons, and even vehicles.
“[In Kyiv], it was extremely deliberate, they employed artillery to maintain the position when they retreated. The situation we’re witnessing now is the exact opposite of that. It’s just people noticing that a huge group is headed towards them and everyone just going about their business and leaving everything in place,” Spencer said. “That means, in my mind, as a military vet, they didn’t have the commanders, or the junior leaders at the lower level to do a rapid plan to withdraw from their positions.”
Although Russian troops’ chaotic retreat from Kharkiv does not or shouldn’t reflect on the capabilities of all Russian troops, but it can provide a glimpse behind the curtain to see the extent to which Russian forces’ capabilities are at the moment in the conflict. Although Russia retains large swaths of land in the east and south, however, the difficulty of holding the territory will be significant; Ukrainian troops formerly defending Izyum and Slovyansk the neighbors in the southern part of Ukraine, have now been allowed to join in and support the counteroffensive according to a status report issued by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
It’s also a moral win for the Ukrainian military. After months of slowly giving up villages and towns in the east and south in the east and south to Russian control, this is the first time that the military forces were able to decide to take the initiative and launch a ferocious offensive. This also proves to Western donors that with proper supplies and the right instruction, the Ukrainian military are incredibly efficient even when faced with an opponent with more weapons and troops.
Ukrainian forces will also have access to Russian weapons and other equipment left behind because in their rush, “Russians have not been mining areas they retreat from as they did when they pulled back from around Kyiv,” according to the ISW. “They are leaving behind large amounts of equipment and supplies that Ukrainian forces can use.” These supplies are welcomed as Ukraine is trying to convince Western nations, such as Germany to give over essential supplies as well as US supplies, including the 155mm ammunition that is used in howitzers. They are also close to depletion.
“This is battle over cities and logistical hubs” more than just a matter of the territory, Spencer told Vox, and “actually changes the entire battlefield calculus of the Russian lines of communication or their support lines.” Kupiansk, just to the northwest of Izyum is the sole railway hub for Russian troops fighting in the frontline region. The weekend before, the Ukrainian military raised their flags in front of the Kupiansk municipal halls, Reuters reported.
Izyum was a vital logistic location in the Russian Donbas campaign. Without this territory, getting supplies coming from just across the border into Belograd is not possible which makes it even harder for Russia to secure territory.
Despite the significant strategic gains made by Ukraine during the week Russia retains control over the Donbas region, which consists of Crimea, the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as well as Crimea which is an important area of staging and a supply hub that supplies the Russian Navy as well as the territories in the south. “Crimea is the only way to support the grouping of troops in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions,” independent Russian military analyst Pavel Luzin told the New York Times. “Otherwise, this grouping of troops does not exist.”
At the time of writing, Sunday evening the local time was 5:00 pm. Russia was also reported to have begun to take revenge in a retaliatory manner, in the form of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeting that an attack on the power plant of Kharkiv caused the city to be without power. “Donetsk regions, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, and Sumy regions were completely cut off” in addition to Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zelenskyy. “Russian terrorists are terrorists and can attack vital infrastructure. There are no military facilities, just the intention of denying people electricity and warmth.”
In a visit on September 8 on the 8th of September to Kyiv, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged continued support for Ukraine and an additional $2.2 billion in aid to the military for Ukraine and 18 other countries that are considered to be to be at the risk of being victims of a Russian invasion. Although the US has achieved the feat of putting the real weight behind its declarations of support, there is a question of whether the west can keep its support for Ukraine despite soaring prices for energy because of Russian sanctions as well as the potential for extreme hardships in the countries with poor economic conditions due to a halt in exports of grain remains.
Zelenskyy did not leave any doubt about the strength of Ukrainian determination in a video that was posted on his Telegram channel on Sunday night. As darkness grew in Kharkiv and its surrounding regions because of the attacks on crucial infrastructure Zelenskyy addressed the Russian president Putin and asked “Do you think you can scare us or break us? Or allow us to concede? Do you think that I can do it without gas, or without you? Without you. Without light, or you? Without you. Without water, or you? Without you.”