Ukrainian Troops Make New Counteroffensive Gains, Retaking Some Territory Putin Wants to Annex

Dimitri Simes | October 3, 2022 | 4:41pm EDT
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A Ukrainian national flag flies near a destroyed house near Izyum in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. (Photo by Juan Barreto / AFP via Getty Images)
A Ukrainian national flag flies near a destroyed house near Izyum in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. (Photo by Juan Barreto / AFP via Getty Images)

Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Ukrainian forces have made new gains in their southern and eastern counter-offensives, forcing Russian troops to withdraw from territory that Moscow is seeking to annex.

Vladimir Saldo, a Russian-installed official in the southern Kherson province, told state television on Monday that Ukrainian forces had made “some breakthroughs” in the region and captured several villages.

Saldo added that Russian and Ukrainian troops were currently battling over a settlement called Dudchany, located about twenty miles from the original frontline in the region. “The situation is tense, let's put it that way,” he said.

During its daily briefing on Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said Ukrainian tank units had managed “to penetrate into the depths of the defense of Russian troops” in Kherson. “The subdivisions of the Russian troops have moved a pre-prepared defensive line and continue to inflict massive fire damage on the enemy,” the ministry said.

The Ukrainian military has so far remained tight-lipped about its most recent counteroffensive attempt in Kherson. On Sunday evening, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that his country’s forces had reasserted control over two small villages near the region’s frontline.

The recent advances brought Ukraine its first major gains in Kherson since Russian troops captured the region in early March. The Ukrainian military launched a large-scale counteroffensive in the area in late August after months of planning, but struggled to take ground and reportedly suffered steep casualties.

Ukrainian forces also captured the town of Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region on Saturday after two weeks of heavy fighting. Videos on social media showed Ukrainian troops raising their country’s flag on the outskirts of the city. The Russian Defense Ministry later confirmed that it had withdrawn its forces from Lyman to avoid the “threat of encirclement.”

Home to approximately 20,000 people before the conflict, Lyman was captured by Russian troops in May. The town went on to become an important transport hub for Russian forces operating in the northern part of the Donetsk region. It was widely expected that Lyman would eventually serve as a key launching pad for a future Russian offensive aimed at seizing full control of the Donetsk region.

Now that the town is back under Kyiv’s control, it could instead serve as a base for a counteroffensive into the neighboring Luhansk region, which was fully captured by Russian troops in July after a lengthy battle.

The loss of Lyman led some high-profile political figures to issue rare public criticisms of Russia’s top military brass.

Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Russia’s Chechnya region and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, published a lengthy post on Telegram accusing Colonel-General Alexander Lapin, commander of Russia’s Central Military District, of failing to provide Russian troops in Lyman with adequate ammunition and communications equipment.

“If I had my way, I would have demoted Lapin to the rank of private, deprived him of his awards, sent him to the front lines with a machine gun to wash away his shame with blood,” he said. “There is no place for nepotism in the army, especially in difficult times.”

Kadyrov also urged the Kremlin to adopt “more drastic measures” against Ukraine, such as the “use of low-yield nuclear weapons.”

Similar criticisms were expressed by Andrey Gurulyov, a current lawmaker and retired lieutenant general in the Russian army. During a livestream on Saturday, he accused the defense ministry leadership of failing to correctly assess the situation on the ground in Ukraine. “The problem is the constant lying, reporting of a situation being good. This system goes from top to bottom,” he said.

“Until something completely different appears in the General Staff, nothing will change,” Gurulyov added. “Everything else is a consequence of the policy pursued from there.”

The recent Ukrainian counteroffensives come amid Russia’s efforts to annex four regions from Ukraine. Last week, Pro-Russian authorities in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions claimed their residents had overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining Russia, in a referendum whose legitimacy was challenged by Ukraine and the West.

During a ceremony at the Kremlin on Friday, Putin signed treaties to begin formally incorporating these regions into Russia. Lawmakers in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, voted unanimously on Monday to ratify the agreements.

To complete the annexation process, the treaties need also to be ratified by the Federation Council, the upper house, and sent back to Putin for a final signature.

The moves have been accompanied by Putin declaring a partial mobilization of the military and economy on September 21. His order allows the defense ministry to call up 300,000 reservists for military service in Ukraine and requires the country’s arms industry to boost production.

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