Russian troops retreat as Ukrainian counteroffensive advances rapidly

Ukrainian forces pressed on Sunday counteroffensive in the east of the country, exploiting quick gains made in a week of fighting tha...

Ukrainian forces pressed on Sunday counteroffensive in the east of the country, exploiting quick gains made in a week of fighting that dramatically changed the course of the conflict.

Ukraine’s quick action to reclaim Russian-occupied areas in the northeastern Kharkiv region forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to avoid being surrounded and leave behind significant numbers of weapons and ammunition in a hasty retreat as the war marked 200 days in Sunday.

Overjoyed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mocked the Russians in a video speech on Saturday, saying that “the Russian army these days is demonstrating the best it can do – showing its back.”

On Sunday, he posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers hoisting the national flag over Chkalovske, another town they had recaptured from the Russians in the counter-offensive.

Ukraine’s military chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyy, said Sunday that Ukraine had liberated about 3,000 square kilometers, or about 1,160 square miles, since early September. He noted that Ukrainian troops are now just 50 kilometers, or about 30 miles, from the Russian border.

The Russians’ withdrawal marked the biggest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv, at the start of the nearly seven-month war. Ukraine’s attack on the Kharkiv region came as a surprise to Moscow, which had relocated many of its troops from the area to the south in anticipation of the main Ukrainian counteroffensive there.

Ukrainian army takes control of southeastern town
Humanitarian aid is distributed to citizens after the Ukrainian army liberated the city of Balakliya in southeastern Kharkiv on September 11, 2022.

Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In a clumsy attempt to save face, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that the withdrawal of troops from Izyum and other areas in the Kharkiv region was aimed at strengthening Russian forces in the neighboring Donetsk region to the south.

The claim sounded similar to Russia’s justification for withdrawing its forces from the Kyiv region earlier this year when they failed to take the capital.

The grouping of Russian forces around Izyum has been instrumental in Moscow’s effort to capture the Donetsk region, and its pullback will now drastically weaken Russia’s ability to press its offensive on the Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk to the south.

Igor Strelkov, who led Russian-backed separatists in the early months of the Donbas conflict when it erupted in 2014, scoffed at the Russian Defense Ministry’s explanation of the withdrawal, suggesting that handing over Russia’s own territory near the Ukrainian border as a ” contribution to Ukrainian colonization.”

The withdrawal drew angry comments from Russian military bloggers and nationalist commentators, who bemoaned it as a major defeat and urged the Kremlin to respond by stepping up the war effort. Many harshly criticized Russian authorities for continuing with fireworks and other lavish festivities in Moscow, which marked a city holiday on Saturday despite the disaster in Ukraine.

As Russian forces were hastily withdrawing from Izyum under Ukrainian fire, Russian President Vladimir Putin watched the opening of a massive observation wheel in a Moscow park, a new transport link and a sports arena.

The action highlighted the Kremlin’s effort to continue to pretend that the war it calls a “special military operation” was going according to plan, without affecting the situation in the country.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov criticized the festivities in Moscow as a serious political mistake.

“The fireworks in Moscow on a tragic day of Russia’s military defeat will have extremely serious political consequences,” Markov wrote on his messaging app channel. “The authorities should not celebrate when people are grieving.”

In a sign of a potential split in the Russian leadership, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, said the withdrawal from the Kharkiv region resulted from mistakes by the Russian military leadership.

“They made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions,” said Kadyrov. “If they don’t make changes to the strategy of conducting the special military operation in the next day or two, I will be obliged to contact the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground.”

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in televised remarks on Saturday that the Russians had been cut off from supply lines and predicted further gains.

“It will be like an avalanche,” he said, predicting a Russian retreat. “A line of defense will shake and fall.”

Despite Ukraine’s gains, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of NATO warned on Friday that the war would likely drag on for months. Blinken said the conflict was entering a critical period and urged Ukraine’s Western supporters to maintain their support during what could be a difficult winter.

In another big Sunday development, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plantthe largest in Europe, has been reconnected to Ukraine’s power grid, allowing engineers to shut down its last operational reactor in an attempt to avert a radiation disaster as fighting intensifies in the area.

For several days prior, the plant had been operating in “island mode”, with only one of its six reactors working to power cooling systems and other crucial equipment.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Russian troops retreat as Ukrainian counteroffensive advances rapidly
Russian troops retreat as Ukrainian counteroffensive advances rapidly
Newsrust - US Top News
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