KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces scored more gains in their broad-front counteroffensive on Monday, advancing into the very areas Russia is trying to annex and defying its efforts to bolster its army with new troops and its threats to defend the incorporated areas by all means, including with nuclear weapons.
In their latest breakthrough, Ukrainian forces penetrated Moscow’s defenses in the strategic southern region of Kherson, one of four areas of Ukraine that Russia is absorbing.
Ukraine’s advances have become so obvious that even Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, who usually focuses on his own military’s successes and the enemy’s losses, was forced to point it out. recognize.
“With numerically superior tank units in the direction of Zolota Balka and Oleksandrivka, the enemy managed to penetrate deep into our defenses,” Konashenkov said, referring to two towns. He added to this claims that Russian forces had inflicted heavy casualties on the Ukrainian army.
Ukrainian forces have struggled to retake the Kherson region, unlike its small-group offensive in the northeast around the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, which began last month.
As the front lines shifted, the political theater in Moscow continued, with the lower house of the Russian parliament approving the annexation treaties for Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk to join Russia. The upper house will follow suit on Tuesday as the culmination of Kremlin-orchestrated annexation “referendums” last week – actions that the UN chief and Western nations have declared illegal.
Russian moves to incorporate Ukrainian regions, as well as President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to mobilize more troops, were so hasty that government officials struggled to explain and implement them. Putin admitted last week that some of the men called up had been selected in error and ordered that they be sent home. On Monday, the question was even more fundamental: which exact regions of Ukraine is Russia trying to incorporate?
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Donetsk and Luhansk joined Russia with the administrative borders that existed before a conflict broke out there in 2014 between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces. But he added that the borders of the other two regions – Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – are undecided.
“We will continue to discuss this with the people of these regions,” Peskov said, without giving further details.
A senior Russian lawmaker offered a different view. Pavel Krasheninnikov said Zaporizhzhia will be absorbed into its “administrative borders”, meaning Moscow will integrate parts of the region still under Kyiv’s control. He said a similar logic would apply to Kherson, but Russia would include two districts from the neighboring Mykolaiv region that Moscow holds.
Putin’s land grab threatened to push the conflict to a dangerous new level, with him and his top officials warning of the potential use of nuclear weapons and ordering partial mobilization of troops. It also prompted Ukraine to seek accelerated NATO membership.
Ukraine has continued its counteroffensive in the Kherson region since the summer, relentlessly striking Russian supply lines and making inroads into Russian-held areas west of the Dnieper. The Ukrainian military successfully used US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers to repeatedly strike the main bridge over the Dnieper and a dam that served as a second main crossing. It also hit pontoon bridges that Russia used to supply its troops.
In addition to areas in the Kherson region cited by the Russian Defense Ministry, various sources showed Ukrainian flags, deployed soldiers, or other unconfirmed signs that Kyiv forces had taken over the villages of Arkhanhelske, Myroliubivka , Khreshchenivka, Mykhalivka and Novovorontsovka.
The situation in the regional capital, also called Kherson, was so precarious that Russian authorities are preventing people from leaving, Ukraine’s presidential office said.
Moscow-appointed Kherson regional chief Vladimir Saldo said Ukrainian troops had tried to advance towards Dudchany along the west bank of the Dnieper, seeking to reach a key checkpoint at Nova Kakhovka, but warplanes Russians had destroyed two Ukrainian battalions and halted the offensive. Saldo added that Russian forces repelled Ukraine’s incursion attempts into the Kherson region from Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih. His claims could not be independently verified.
Despite successful strikes on supply lines, Ukraine’s offensive in the south was less successful than in the northeast, as open terrain exposes attacking forces to artillery and airstrikes Russians. Still, Russian military bloggers close to Moscow have acknowledged that Ukraine has superior, tank-backed manpower in the region.
A Russian-installed official in the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, said in a video that Ukrainian forces “bore a little deeper”, but insisted that “everything is under control” and that the ” Russian defense system works”.
Ukraine has reported progress in areas other than annexing Russia. Ukrainian Luhansk region governor Serhiy Haidai said Kyiv forces had recaptured the village of Torske, just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the town of Kreminna. Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the Kreminna-Svatove region is highly strategic.
“The Kreminna is key to controlling the whole Lugansk region, because further beyond (the city) the Russians have no lines of defense left,” he told The Associated Press. “Recapturing this town opens up an operational space for the Ukrainians to advance quickly to the very border with Russia.”
Zhdanov said Russian troops in this area had withdrawn from the Kharkiv region. In the Kharkiv region, across the Oskil River, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Lyman, the Ukrainian army reportedly liberated most of Borova. Local officials posted video as they drove through recently recaptured streets waving the Ukrainian flag through a window.
“Finally, you’re home. Finally, it’s Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine!” someone shouted in the street.
Ukraine also recaptured a strategic eastern city, Lyman, which the Russians had used as a frontline logistics and transportation hub. Lyman is in the Donetsk region near the border with Luhansk.
Ukraine’s efforts to retake the territory have embarrassed the Kremlin and sparked rare domestic criticism of Putin’s war. Tens of thousands of Russian men fled Russia after the September 21 appeal. Many flew to Turkey, one of the few countries still to have air links with Russia. Others drove off, creating long traffic jams at Russian borders to Georgia, Kazakhstan and Finland, among others.
Critics of Russia at home and abroad have only prompted senior Russian officials to defend Putin’s actions more strongly.
Addressing lawmakers, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the United States of rallying allies to counter Russia in Ukraine. He said it was as if Nazi Germany was drawing on the resources of most of Europe when it invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
“The United States mobilized virtually the entire collective West to turn Ukraine into an instrument of war against Russia, just as Hitler mobilized the military resources of most European nations to attack the Soviet Union,” he said. said Lavrov.
Yuras Karmanau contributed from Tallinn, Estonia
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