Ukrainian forces have punched through Russian front lines near Kharkiv this week as Vlad's boys were concentrating on defending Kherson to the south.
Western defense officials and analysts on Saturday said they believed Ukraine had punched through Russian front lines south of the country’s second-largest city, taking thousands of square miles of territory and threatening to cut off Russian supply lines.
The British Defense Ministry in an online briefing said it believed the Ukrainians had advanced as much as 30 miles in the advance south of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
The advance appears to be around Izyum, long a focus on the Russian front line and the site of heavy artillery and other fighting. The British described Russian forces around Izyum as “increasingly isolated.”
“Russian forces were likely taken by surprise. The sector was only lightly held and Ukrainian units have captured or surrounded several towns,” the British military said.
It added that the nearby town of Kupiansk also appeared to be pressured by Ukrainian forces, and that its loss would greatly affect Russian supply lines in the area.
An image circulated on social media Saturday appeared to show Ukrainian soldiers in front of a main government building in Kupiansk, some 45 miles north of Izyum.
The image showed soldiers displaying the flag of the 92nd Separate Mechanized Battalion of Ukraine in front of a building that resembled Kupiansk’s city council building, which sits just along the Oskil River.
Ukraine’s military has not yet acknowledged entering the city, though it comes amid a several days of apparent gains by the Ukrainians south of Kharkiv.
A Washington-based think tank likewise referenced sweeping Ukrainian gains on Saturday, estimating that Kyiv has seized around 965 square miles in its northeastern breakthrough.
The Institute for the Study of War said in a report that it appeared that “disorganized Russian forces (were) caught in the rapid Ukrainian advance.” They cited social media images of apparent Russian prisoners seized in the advance around Izyum and surrounding towns.
The same report said that Ukrainian forces “may collapse Russian positions around Izyum if they sever Russian ground lines of communication” north and south of the town.
The fighting in the east comes amid an ongoing offensive around Kherson in southern Ukraine. Analysts suggest Russia may have taken soldiers from the east to reinforce around Kherson, offering the Ukrainians the opportunity to strike a weakened front line.
After months of grinding fighting in the Russian-occupied Donbas region, the Fellas have finally knocked the Russkies on their asses in a major way. Lawrence Freedman explains what's next:
Russia is losing but it has not yet lost. It still occupies a large chunk of Ukrainian territory and still has substantial military assets in the country. As I have argued regularly in these posts wars can take unexpected turns, as we have just seen. Calamitous miscalculations as well as audacious manoeuvres can transform the character of a conflict. There is always a risk of analyses getting too far ahead, jumping from the current state of affairs to the next and beyond and then asking what happens in purely hypothetical situations. Earlier in the summer there was a tendency to assume that the coming months would be dominated either by more gruelling Russian offensives as in the Donbas or perhaps a stalemate, so that the war could last months or even years. This stalemate philosophy still persists, not least because it is hard to even contemplate such a great military power being humbled.
So while the situation is far more positive for Ukraine the same cautions about extrapolating too far ahead must apply. Even if Kharkiv is completely liberated there will still be much to do. In the Kherson Oblast the other offensive is also developing and taking shape. This has so far been in the ‘slow grind’ category though it is picking up pace and more encirclement operations are possible there. The Russians must now be worrying about their position in Donetsk. Unresolved is the extraordinarily dangerous situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. This is an unsustainable situation, one the Director-General of the IAEA has described as ‘precarious’ as the plant’s offsite power has been turned off and it is still being shelled.
The initiative is now firmly with Ukraine. The experience of the last few days will create doubts in the minds of Russian commanders about the reliability and resilience of their troops, and add to the predicaments they already face when working out how to allocate their increasingly scarce resources of manpower, intelligence assets and airpower. Might they risk a repeat of this operational disaster if they move forces to plug one gap only for another to open up? How much more can they expect from their forces, many who will now have been fighting for long weeks without respite and without much to show for their efforts? By contrast, there will have been a boost to the morale of even the more beleaguered Ukrainian forces (and as the Washington Post reports some of their units have also had a tough time). There may also have been a boost to their capabilities from supplies of equipment and ammunition captured in Kharkiv.
There is now talk of defeat on the Russian side. There was no sense of this in President Putin’s insouciant remarks at the Vladivostok economic forum, with Russia’s isolation symbolised by the lack of international presence (Myanmar, Chinese and Armenian representatives turned up). He claimed that nothing had been lost by the war and sovereignty had been gained as if his desire to intensify autocracy and achieve autarky in the name of self-reliance has been worth the tens of thousands of Russians dead, wounded, and taken prisoner, and the years of defence production and economic modernisation up in smoke. His forces might stabilise the situation, at least away from Kharkiv, and provide more breathing space while he hopes Europe’s economic pain leads them to abandon Ukraine. But as I argued in my last post that is unlikely to happen, and he may now have less time than he thought to find out.
Because of the opacity of Putin’s decision-making and his delusional recent utterances, presenting Russia as the keeper of some core civilisational values, there is no suggestion that he has reached the point where he can acknowledge the position into which he has led his country. Prudence therefore requires us to assume that this war will not be over soon. But nor should it blind us to the possibility that events might move far faster than we assumed – first gradually, and then suddenly.
This was what Ukraine needed to stay in this war, and more importantly, to convince the EU to stay in this war, despite the very real issues of winter only a few months away and most of the EU facing a looming power crisis that could threaten stability across the region as Russia cut off natural gas supplies completely last weekend.
It's the crack in the wall that Ukraine needed, however.
Watch them Fellas go!