Ukraine retakes Russian-occupied lands near Kharkiv with a surprise counteroffensive

“To date, the armed forces have liberated and taken control of more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Friday.

NBC News has not verified the claims.

But the Institute for the Study of Warfare, a US-based military think tank, said in its latest update on Saturday that Ukrainian forces “have captured about 2,500 square kilometers (about 1,000 square miles ) in Kharkiv oblast in the Kharkiv region counteroffensive from September 9.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry shared a video on Friday showing military vehicles it said were rushing to the aid of its forces in the east, while a Moscow-based official in the region acknowledged that Ukrainian troops had makes gains.

Russian military vehicles in Ukraine drive towards Kharkiv in a video released Friday by the Russian Defense Ministry.Russian Defense Ministry press service via AP

“The very fact of this breakthrough is an important victory for them,” Vitaly Ganchev, who heads the Kremlin-controlled government in occupied Kharkiv province, said Friday in an appearance on state television. Russian. He said battles were ongoing in some strategic areas.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Vladimir Putin, declined to comment on Ukraine’s progress but said the Russian president would hold a security council meeting behind closed doors.

Cheese fries promised at the beginning of the week at continuing Moscow’s military efforts in Ukraine, saying his country was winning rather than losing from the conflict.

However, events on the battlefield seemed to paint a darker picture for the Kremlin.

The United States expressed cautious optimism about Ukraine’s counteroffensive, with the Pentagon saying Kyiv forces were making good use of Western-supplied weapons.

“We’re seeing success in Kherson now, we’re seeing some success in Kharkiv and so that’s very, very encouraging,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a news conference on Friday during a visit to Prague.

Sasha Baker, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy, told reporters in Washington that it was “probably too early to have a definitive assessment,” but added that “I think we’ve seen encouraging signs.

But she added that Russia represented “a formidable adversary” and that there was “a long fight ahead”.

A senior US military official told NBC News it was clear Ukrainian forces were “making progress”, adding, “They have made significant progress in the past few days.”

Ukraine initially launched a counteroffensive in the south of the country late last month after weeks of public planning and preparation, as it aimed to head towards the crucial coastal city of Kherson.

Then this week, after Russia redeployed large numbers of its own forces south to counter that effort, reports began to emerge that Kyiv forces were launching another counteroffensive further north – a decision which seemed to catch both the whole world and the army in Moscow unawares.

“Either the Russians were too incompetent to see it, or they were so incompetent they saw it and couldn’t do anything,” said Phillips O’Brien, chair of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland earlier this week. “And neither are comforting to them.”

Some Western military analysts said the advance appeared aimed at cutting supply and communication lines that Russia has relied on to support its forces in eastern Ukraine, and could potentially leave thousands of Russian soldiers surrounded around the town of Izyum.

The industrial Donbass region has long been the focus of Putin’s war effort, with such advances on either side largely unprecedented in a crushing and attritional conflict.

Glen Grant, a retired British officer who worked as a defense reform expert in Ukraine before the war, said questions remained about the success of the counteroffensive. For example, had Ukraine repelled the Russian forces or were they “rolling into the fresh air?”

“In other words, there is no one there,” he said, adding that he wanted to know if Ukraine was setting up strong supply lines and artillery support. as she progressed.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that Ukraine is taking advantage of Western-made weapons currently in its arsenal, including US-supplied HIMARS rocket systems.

“Russian strategic objectives have been defeated,” he told reporters at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. . “The war is not over. But so far, Russian strategic objectives have been defeated.

President Joe Biden this week approved $675 million in additional military aid for Ukraine, including more artillery munitions, armored vehicles and anti-tank systems.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who met Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels after Blinken’s trip to Kyiv, said the war was “entering a critical phase”, forcing the West to stay lucid about the issues.

“If Russia stops fighting, there will be peace,” he said. “If Ukraine stops fighting, it will cease to exist as an independent nation. So we must stay the course, for the good of Ukraine and for ours.”

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