Ukraine offensive is seen as reshaping the contours of the war

KYIV, Ukraine – A flashy Ukrainian offensive in the northeast of the country has reshaped what has become a war of attrition. In just a few days, Russia’s front lines had turned tough, Moscow’s troops had fled, and village after village had once again appeared beneath the yellow and blue Ukrainian banner.

Ukrainian officials on Saturday said their troops had captured the eastern city of Izium, a strategically important railway hub that Russian forces seized in the spring after a bloody battle. many weeks.

“Today Izium was liberated,” the city mayor, Valeriy Marchenko, said in an interview.

Russian Ministry of Defense – the day before that indicates it is moving to consolidate its defensive positions in the area – confirmed on Saturday that it had pulled its forces out of Izium to “regroup”. While the statement sought to portray the withdrawal as a pre-planned move, the remaining military equipment scattered only for a hasty retreat to avoid encirclement.

While the remaining 12,000 inhabitants of the pre-war population of 40,000 celebrate Izium’s liberation from Russian control, their joy is stifled by the devastation that has persisted over the past six months.

“There is not a single residential building that is not damaged,” said Mr. Marchenko. “Heating is the biggest problem. I doubt if we can restore the heating before winter.”

Ukraine’s capture of Izium could mark a turning point in the war, culminating in Russia’s humiliating defeat around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in the spring.

The successful Ukrainian offensive, which began this week near Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, is a testament to the endurance of the Ukrainian military and, once again, the shortcomings of the Russian war machine.

“Ukrainian forces did not stop after approaching the first town, but deliberately chose to bypass the towns to advance further,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies. than behind the Russian line.”

The success of the Ukrainian offensive in the north comes at a critical time. Besides raising the country’s morale and defeating Russia’s plan to annex occupied territory, it is coming before winter, when the front line is expected to freeze and a global energy crisis could strain Western support for Ukraine.

“The path to the return of our entire territory is all there, every day it becomes clearer. We see the contours of restoring the territorial integrity of our state,” said President Volodymyr Zelenksky of Ukraine on Saturday. He warned that the next 90 days of fighting, when seasons change and temperatures drop, will be critical.

But now, before the first snowfall, the Ukrainian army has dealt a heavy blow to their Russian enemy, ensuring that, by spring and without any setbacks, the war’s outcome could turn the decision in favor of Ukraine, analysts say.

“The farther the forces go, the harder it is to maintain, but it seems that Russia does not have enough reserves ready to stop the breakthrough or hold these towns,” Mr. Lee said.

The collapse of the Russian army that led to the loss of the Izium can largely be attributed to one simple fact: Russian forces have not fought on their flanks, perhaps because of the growing shortage of troops, soldiers. Obligatory exhaustion and low morale.

Since the beginning of the summer, Russian troops have been deployed to the Donbas, the mineral-rich region of mining towns and rolling stock just east of Izium. The capture of the eastern steppe of Ukraine was one of Moscow’s main war goals, and in June and July its forces captured the industrial cities of Sieverodonetsk and Lysychansk.

But in recent weeks, tens of thousands of Russian troops have also been moved south to fight a publicized Ukrainian attack started last month in the Kherson region.

Although the southern assault appeared to be an assault, preparing the battlefield to the northeast for Kyiv’s stunning breakthrough, both attacks were well planned and supported by a large number of ground troops.

“We need to wait and see how far they can go, but the attack in the northeast and Kherson tells us Ukraine has a manpower advantage and can use it effectively,” Mr. Lee said. Casualties in the south, troops deployed there say recently, have been substantial, although Ukrainian forces have recaptured some villages.

Manpower and ammunition were two decisive factors in the six-month war in Ukraine. In most categories, Russia had more positions, defending Ukrainian positions with bone-chilling artillery and advancing steadily with rows despite frequent heavy casualties.

Western intelligence agencies estimate that losses on both sides run into the tens of thousands, making Ukraine’s recent achievements all the more remarkable and highlighting fatigue in the ranks. Russia, which has injured and killed 80,000 people since the war began, according to the agencies.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about the attack, but it was clearly well planned and executed by Ukrainian forces,” Lee said. “It looks like a very effective combined arms operation with tanks, motorized infantry, special operations forces, air defense systems, artillery and other systems.”

But with the battlefield changing by the hour, it remains unclear how the coming days will play out. Pro-Russian bloggers have posted numerous images of Russia’s 3rd Army Corps advancing towards Izium, although the change of forces seems to have come too late.

The Russian military still has a large number of troops and especially air power, and will likely try to counterattack or at least harass Ukrainian forces as they advance.

After Russian forces occupied Izium in the early months of the war, it gave them a decisive advantage in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, eastern Ukraine – known collectively as the Donbas. That leaves strategically important Ukrainian-held cities in the region trapped in pockets that are slowly closing as Russian troops advance.

Russian control of Izium ensures that Ukrainian forces will have to be deployed there to prevent Russian forces from advancing further west. This meant that vital resources and troops could not be used elsewhere on the front lines.

But the Russian advances in the Donbas stalled over the summer, when their exhausted units paused to rest and tried with uncertain success to replenish their ranks and stockpile of weapons, armor and ammo. their medicine.

Those matters will be compounded by the loss of Izium. An important supply center, the city is a military station for Russian forces in the Donbas regions. As these lines are severed, it seems increasingly likely that Russian forces, especially their artillery batteries, will come under increasing tension.

With Izium now under Ukrainian control, the dynamic in the east has been reshaped. It gave Kyiv’s forces more geography from which to launch deeper attacks and ease pressure on cities that have come under relentless Russian shelling, such as Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. in Donbas.

The Ukrainians will likely have to deal with hundreds, if not thousands, of Russian POWs captured during their raid in the northeast, while also distributing prized Russian military equipment.

Unverified videos posted on social media in recent days show the hastily abandoned aircraft carriers and armored tanks, the kind of equipment that Ukraine’s military is severely lacking due to weapons. since their Soviet times were decommissioned after months of fighting.

Although the captured Russian equipment has become increasingly important to the dwindling Ukrainian military, Western-supplied artillery, HIMARS long-range missile systems and air defense systems have played a role. important in the results of the attacks to date.

But Western analysts also attribute Kyiv’s recent victories to superior tactics, better planning, higher morale and a decentralized command structure, all of which seem to have combined. together to allow their armies to seize the initiative and now, to succeed against a numerically superior army. force.

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