Ukraine‘s lightning counteroffensive in the country’s northeast has pushed enemy troops out of key towns and could further demoralize Russian troops, according to foreign intelligence estimates Monday, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has come under fire at home for the failures of the war plan.
Ukrainian military commanders said they’ve pushed all Russian forces out of Kharkiv and surrounding areas in the northeast. Russian troops have been pushed all the way back to the Russia-Ukraine border outside the city, with more than 20 towns and settlements freed from Russian military occupation over just the past day, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy celebrated the battlefield successes on social media, expressing his trademark defiance toward Moscow.
“Do you still think you can intimidate, break us, force us to make concessions?” Mr. Zelenskyy said in social media posts. “Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst for us are not as scary and deadly as your friendship and brotherhood.”
Russian military officials over the weekend conceded that troops were pulling back from key regions near Kharkiv and regrouping in the Donetsk province, a Russian stronghold in the country’s southeast.
While fighting is expected to drag on for months or perhaps even years in that region, Ukraine‘s stunning success around Kharkiv has rapidly reshaped the battlefield and breathed new life into Kyiv’s hopes for victory.
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With the aid of U.S.-made weapons, Ukraine‘s ability to quickly rout the much larger, better-equipped army has changed the dynamics of the broader war and could once again force the Kremlin to rethink its strategic aims.
The speed and magnitude of Ukraine‘s gains seem to have caught Russian leaders by surprise.
“Since Wednesday, Ukraine has recaptured territory at least twice the size of greater London,” the British Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence estimate posted on Twitter. “The rapid Ukrainian successes have significant implications for Russia‘s overall operational design. The majority of the force in Ukraine is highly likely being forced to prioritize emergency defensive actions. The already limited trust deployed troops have in Russia‘s senior military leadership is likely to deteriorate further.”
Moscow has been forced several times already to revamp its approach in Ukraine. In the early weeks of the war, the Russian army pulled back after a disastrous campaign to capture the capital of Kyiv.
Since then, Russia has concentrated most of its war effort in the country’s east, particularly around Kharkiv and in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in the southeast, which together make up the disputed Donbas region.
But Ukraine‘s counteroffensive could force Russian troops to abandon, at least temporarily, all efforts in the northeast and concentrate entirely on the Donbas.
Such a change in strategy would further underscore what Pentagon officials say has been a complete failure by Moscow to achieve its goals in Ukraine.
“I think it’s clear Putin‘s invasion is not going exactly as he anticipated and the Russians thus far have failed to achieve their strategic objectives,” Sasha Baker, the Pentagon’s deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters on Friday.
The changing landscape in Ukraine has even led to rare public criticism of Mr. Putin‘s military braintrust. Speaking on Russian state-controlled TV, Boris Nadezhdin, a former Russian parliament member, blasted his country’s strategy in unusually blunt terms.
“People who convinced President Putin that the operation will be fast and effective … these people really set up all of us,” he said, according to English-language media reports. “We’re now at the point here we have to understand that it’s absolutely impossible to defeat Ukraine using these resources and colonial war methods.”
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.