Thousands of Russian troops withdrew in the face of a lightning Ukrainian offensive in the region of Kharkiv that threatens to derail the Kremlin’s attempt to cement control of eastern Ukraine.
A Moscow-backed local official and pro-Russian military bloggers said on Saturday that Moscow forces had withdrawn from Izyum, a campaign staging post in Donbas, to avoid being encircled.
The claims are difficult to verify and the situation is moving fast, but reports from both sides point to rapid advances of the kyiv troops.
The news came hours after Ukrainian officials announced the taking of Kupyanska transit and logistics hub for Russian troops fighting in the east, and the recapture of another occupied territory in the northern Kharkiv region earlier this week.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry also tweeted a photo from the liberation of Balakliya, southwest of Kupyansk, showing troops raising a Ukrainian flag in the center of the city.
The advances come after kyiv received increasing supplies of weapons from USA and their allies, including powerful HIMARS Rocket Launcher, giving Ukraine’s supporters confidence that it can stand up to the Russian invasion, now seven months old.
Daniil Bezsonov, first deputy information minister of the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic in Donbas, said the Russian military had left Izyum and some other towns in Kharkiv. “Of course, this is the result of the mistakes of the high command”, he said on his Telegram channel.
Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence colonel who became commander of the pro-Russian separatist forces in Donbas in 2014, also confirmed the withdrawal from Izyum. “A hasty withdrawal will inevitably lead to heavy losses by the retreating troops in equipment and ammunition and – most delicate of all – in people,” Girkin said in a Telegram post.
Russian military correspondents have expressed growing concern over pushback as Ukrainian forces have advanced tens of kilometers into Russian-held territory in Kharkiv in recent days. “The situation of the Russian armed forces in the fighting near Kharkiv is the toughest,” Yevgeny Poddubny, a war correspondent for the Russian state channel VGTRK, said on his Telegram channel on Saturday.
The arrival of reinforcements slowed but did not stop the Ukrainian counteroffensive, he said.
After withdrawing following a failed attempt to capture the Ukrainian capital kyiv, Kremlin forces have since April shifted their attention to Donbas, the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.
But, despite having invaded Luhansk, Russia has had difficulty moving west. And from late August, Ukraine began a new push to dislodge Moscow’s forces from both the southern Kherson region and Kharkiv in the north, targeting Russian logistical capabilities and forcing a split of resources.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared that the kyiv troops had reconquered some 2,000 square kilometers in Kharkiv. The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, now estimates the area to be about 2,500 square kilometers.
In Moscow, there was no outward sign of concern from the Kremlin over the sudden setbacks on the battlefield.
President Vladimir Putin continued with his planned public agenda, presiding over the opening of a new Ferris wheel and a martial arts gym. State television showed short videos of what he said were reinforcements heading to the Kharkiv area.
(c) 2022, Bloomberg
Invasion of Ukraine: Russia admitted that it had to withdraw its forces from the eastern region of Kharkiv