Ukrainian forces threaten key Russian supply route as well as pressing forward in the south
By James Marson
Sept. 7, 2022
The Wall Street Journal
An unexpected Ukrainian military offensive in the east near the country’s second-largest city of Kharkiv is gaining ground, testing Russian occupation forces that also are under pressure in southern Ukraine, in the latest sign that Ukraine’s defenders are seizing the military initiative. Ukrainian units are advancing eastward from Kharkiv, according to Ukrainian officials and Russian war bloggers, targeting a critical Russian supply route.
The dual offensives in eastern and southern Ukraine show how the country’s military is increasingly forcing Russia to react to its moves. Ukraine’s forces are growing gradually stronger as the country receives advanced weapons from the U.S. and other Western countries, while Russia is struggling to deploy extra well-trained manpower after suffering heavy losses since it launched its full-scale invasion in February.
Russia still holds an advantage in the quantity of artillery and shells, however, and advancing remains difficult for either side’s forces, particularly across the flat and open ground that characterizes large parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.
After pushing Russian troops back from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv this spring, Ukrainian forces had been gradually retreating from cities in the east that Russia was leveling with artillery and airstrikes. But Russia’s eastern offensive appears exhausted, with manpower and supply shortages exacerbated by Ukraine’s use of long-range rockets provided by the U.S. to strike command posts and ammunition and fuel depots.
One target of the offensive is the city of Kupyansk, a road hub for Russian supplies heading south from the border into eastern Ukraine. A continued Ukrainian advance could also threaten to isolate Russian forces in the city of Izyum, which Russia has been seeking to use as a staging point for its own offensive in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces surrounded the city of Balakliya on Tuesday and advanced along a road northeast, seizing villages, according to Russian bloggers who are close to the Russian military. Ukraine’s military didn’t comment, but an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the gains. “There are surprises along the whole front,” said the adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych.
Mr. Zelensky hailed advances in his nightly address Wednesday but said he wouldn’t disclose details. “This week we have good news from Kharkiv province,” he said. “I think every citizen feels pride for our warriors.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday didn’t comment on Ukraine’s eastern offensive but said Russian forces had successfully struck Ukrainian targets in Kharkiv and the eastern Donetsk region. The ministry added that Ukraine had paused its offensive in the south over the past day after incurring large losses in manpower and military equipment.
Also on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled defiance in the face of Ukraine’s offensives, saying Moscow had only gained from the invasion and that it would continue the military campaign “until the end,” in comments at an economic forum. “We have not lost anything and will not lose anything,” Mr. Putin said. Western countries had failed to isolate Russia through “economic, financial and technological aggression,” he said.
The advance near Kharkiv comes a week after Ukraine launched an offensive in the south, retaking several villages and expanding a bridgehead across the Inhulets River. Ukraine is trying to cut off thousands of Russian troops in the southern regional capital of Kherson, which Russia seized early in its invasion.
Ukraine also claimed fresh success in the south on Wednesday, seizing a village and striking Russian military facilities, pontoon bridges used to supply troops in Kherson and ammunition depots.
Ukraine spoke openly of its intention to launch a southern offensive, prompting Russia to reinforce its units in the south with thousands of troops from the east. That appears to have opened opportunities for Ukrainian forces in the east to advance. “Russia’s deployment of forces from Kharkiv and eastern Ukraine to Ukraine’s south is likely enabling Ukrainian counterattacks of opportunity,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in an analysis late Tuesday.
Mr. Arestovych, the Ukrainian presidential adviser, said multiple offensives were keeping the Russians off balance and leaving them unable to shore up all positions with reserves. “It’s clear who has the initiative at the moment,” he said.
On Tuesday, Ukraine said its forces had also made limited advances in the eastern region of Luhansk, almost all of which was captured by Russia during its now-stalled eastern offensive.
Olya Fokaf and Evan Gershkovich contributed to this article