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UKRAINIAN FORCES PUNCH FORWARD IN EAST

James Marson

Sept. 8, 2022

The Wall Street Journal

Ukraine’s military advanced as much as 30 miles in the country’s east and liberated more than 20 villages and towns, a senior commander said, in a rapid thrust aimed at cutting Russian supply routes.

Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Hromov, a senior officer on Ukraine’s General Staff, gave the first official confirmation of the gains of an offensive launched Tuesday to the east of Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv.

He told reporters in Kyiv that Russian forces were demoralized but resisting, and noted smaller advances near other eastern cities.

Russia’s military hasn’t commented on the Ukrainian advance. But Gen. Hromov’s comments tally with reports from Russian war bloggers close to the Russian military who have said Ukrainian forces are making gains toward Kupyansk, a city of some 30,000 before the war, that is a critical road hub for the resupply and movement of Russian occupation forces.

Russian occupation authorities in Kupyansk said they would evacuate women and children from the strategic city as advancing Ukrainian forces stepped up strikes there.

The unexpected Ukrainian thrust appears to mark a new phase in the war where Kyiv is seeking to take back ground that Russia seized since it launched a full-scale invasion about six months ago. After repelling Russian forces from Kyiv in spring, Ukraine’s military has been gradually withdrawing from cities in the east under devastating artillery and airstrikes.

But the Russian advance there appears exhausted, and Ukraine has seized the initiative in the war with dual offensives in the south and east. In the south, Ukraine is seeking to cut off thousands of Russian troops on the western bank of the Dnipro River in and around the regional capital of Kherson.

To the east of Kharkiv, Kupyansk has emerged as a key target. Liberating the city, or even being close enough to use artillery to disrupt Russia’s supply lines, could isolate Russian forces in the city of Izyum to the south, which Moscow had sought to use for an offensive of its own.

Ukrainian troops liberated the eastern city of Balakliya Thursday, according to Russian war bloggers and photographs posted on local social media channels. The city, with a prewar population of some 30,000, is the largest that Kyiv’s forces have retaken control of in months. Ukrainian units were also advancing to the northeast in the direction of Kupyansk, seizing several villages.

A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the Ukrainian offensives were aimed at demonstrating to Ukrainians that everything was going well and at persuading the West to provide more weapons, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with senior commanders Thursday to receive reports on advances, which he said had liberated dozens of towns and villages and around 1,000 square kilometers, or about 385 square miles, more than the land area of New York City, since the start of September.

He posted a video on social media of a Ukrainian soldier standing on a Russian tricolor with the Ukrainian flag flying on a pole behind him, reporting that Balakliya had been liberated.

“Everything is in its place,” wrote Mr. Zelensky. “The flag of Ukraine in a free Ukrainian city under a free Ukrainian sky.”

Senior U.S. officials said Thursday that Washington is sending $675 million in new military assistance to Ukraine, along with $2 billion in additional funding for the country and others in the region.

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, speaking of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, said Thursday, “I would not underestimate the capacity, or courage, of the Ukrainians right now.”

Mr. Burns said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that he can wear down the Ukrainians, Europeans and Americans, damaging Ukraine’s economy and imposing high energy prices on Europe as winter approaches, while the U.S. loses interest.

“I believe, my colleagues at the CIA believe that Putin is as wrong about that bet as he was profoundly wrong in his assumptions going back to last February about Ukrainian will to resist and the will of the West, of the United States and all of our partners to support the Ukrainians,” Mr. Burns said at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit in Washington.

U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that while “so far, the Russian strategic objectives have been defeated,” it was too soon to say whether Ukraine has successfully thwarted Russia in the southern part of the country.

Gen. Milley, speaking from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, said that Ukraine has struck 400 targets using U.S.-provided Himars rocket systems, with devastating effect.

“Russian lines of communication and supply chains are severely strained. It is having a direct impact on the Russian ability to project and sustain combat power,” he said.

Russian officials have dismissed indications that their six-month invasion is faltering. Mr. Putin said Wednesday: “We have not lost anything and will not lose anything.”

A senior Russian official proposed holding votes on joining Russia in occupied territories on Nov. 4, a Russian public holiday known as National Unity Day. Andrei Turchak, leader of the governing United Russia party, said it would be a “correct and symbolic” date for the votes. He said they would certainly take place before the end of the year.

Russia had previously indicated that votes would take place in September, but those plans appear to have been scuttled by Ukraine’s offensives.

In areas that Russia has captured, Moscow has been handing out passports, taking control of schools and introducing the Russian ruble.

But occupation forces have met with resistance. Vladimir Rogov, a senior collaborator in occupied Melitopol in Ukraine’s south, said the headquarters of his group “We Are Together with Russia” had been blown up Wednesday.

 

Olya Fokaf and Warren P. Strobel contributed to this article.