Russia surrenders area the size of Cyprus in lightning Ukraine offensive

Western officials warn that Kyiv troops could now face more robust resistance from their invaders

A Ukrainian soldier smiles from a military vehicle on the road in the freed territory in the Kharkiv region. AP
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Russia has surrendered 10,000 square kilometres of territory it seized after a lightning offensive conducted by Ukraine in the past week, western officials have disclosed.

While the sources have endorsed Kyiv’s claim of retaking 6,000 sq km, they said Moscow made the decision to abandon an area of land the size of Cyprus.

The officials said Russian generals had made a “good decision” in shortening their lines, “making them more defensive and sacrificing territory in order to do so”.

The Ukrainian offensive now faces significant obstacles, including the Oskil river and entering territory close the Luhansk region which for political reasons Russian will defend doggedly.

The Ukraine strike around northern Kharkiv was a “powerful moment in terms of logistics, operations and psychology” but it was “too early to say whether this is a turning point in a war”, one western source said.

Ukraine’s commanders had outsmarted the Russians by luring their best troops into the southern region containing the strategically important city of Kherson, which “created areas of weakness” in the northern area around Kharkiv.

Some of that front line was guarded by poorly trained militia from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic who “fled in apparent panic”. but otherwise regular Russian forces largely conducted an ordered withdrawal rather than “an outright collapse of troops”.

Moscow’s forces have abandoned large amounts of kit including an advanced Zoopark ground radar used to detect artillery fire from distance of up to 40km.

The western sources were unable to confirm in the media briefing whether a Russian general had been taken prisoner but did say it was “certainly plausible that some Russian command bases would have been overrun by the speed of Ukrainian advance”.

A major road carrying supplies into the region was also under threat of being captured by the Ukrainians.

Kyiv's lightning counter-offensive has taken 10,000km of Russian occupied land, western officials have said. AFP

While not yet endorsing it as a turning point, the officials said Kyiv had established a “winning narrative” that they would describe “as a goal before half-time”.

However, crossing the Oskil would be a challenge where they could face the threat of minefields and other natural obstacles.

While senior figures have given a warning of a potential nuclear response by President Vladimir Putin, especially if annexed Crimea is threatened, the Russians are more likely to escalate by firing precision missiles at targets such as energy stations.

It appears that Kyiv’s troops have adapted a much more agile western approach to operations using “mission command”, whereby junior commanders can take the initiative and make snap decisions if they believe they could lead to success or avert failure.

However, Moscow’s forces were still wedded to Soviet doctrine of laborious decision-making. “For some decisions they go all the way back to Moscow, and then back to the front line which speaks to their lack of agility,” the official said. “They are operating with a long screwdriver, which is inhibiting the action on the front line.”

Asked if the Ukrainian offensive could still strike further into Russian-held territory, the official said: “We don't want to say they won't go further because they have a habit of surprising us.”

Updated: September 13, 2022, 6:01 PM
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