Ukraine’s largest offensive in the war to date has pushed Russian forces back 70km in a week, requisitioning the Kupyansk logistics center and setting its sights on the main military command post of Izyum.
“Kuyansk is Ukraine. . . Glory to the Armed Forces of Ukraine!” Natalia Popova, an adviser to the Kuyansk City Council, wrote on Facebook on Saturday about the lightning offensive in the northeast of the country.
Kupyansk is located on important Russian supply routes to the Donbas region, a vast area of mostly Russian occupied territory. Its capture on Friday night gave Ukrainian forces a boost to encircle and capture a significant portion of the Russian forces in Izyum.
The counter-offensive is the largest to date in Kiev. Its success has given Ukraine’s armed forces a tactical and morale boost, demonstrating their capabilities to the country’s western allies.
“Izyum will be under Ukrainian control within hours. Russians escaped, leaving behind weapons and ammunition. The city center is free,” said Taras Berezovets, a press officer for the Bohun Brigade of Ukraine’s special forces.
Videos posted to social media showed apparently disheveled Russian troops hastily abandoned vehicles and positions, leaving equipment and food scattered around their positions. Locals cheered the Ukrainian troops as they advanced through liberated villages.
Kiev launched the attack earlier this week, using Russian defenses that had been exhausted after troops were sent south to repel a Ukrainian offensive around Kherson. As many as 10,000 Russian troops can be caught in the maneuver, Lawrence Freedman, Professor Emeritus of War Studies at King’s College London, estimated.
“I am convinced that a few more successes . . . and the Russian troops will flee,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in an interview published Saturday with the RBK-Ukraine news agency.
“And they will, believe me, because today we are destroying their logistics chains, warehouses and so on. . . It will be like an avalanche, one line of defense will shake and it will fall,” he added.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, convened a meeting of his security council on Friday, but spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had no comment afterward and referred all questions to the defense ministry, Russia’s TASS news service reported.
Military analysts said Ukraine had launched the two, near-simultaneous, offensives to overwhelm the Russian military’s centralized command system, which struggles with multi-directional deployment.
“Russian generals are afraid of making mistakes. . . leading to centralization of decision-making as everyone tries to push decisions upwards as much as possible to avoid responsibility. That kills their ability to deal with multidirectional approaches,” said Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister.
“So that’s exactly what our armed forces do. . . attacks where Russians don’t expect it and in more than one direction,” he told participants at the Yalta European Strategy conference in Kiev this weekend.
The success of the Ukrainian offensive so far has led one of the military commentators, embedded in Russian forces, to describe it as a “catastrophe” and the “biggest Russian military defeat since 1943”.
However, analysts warned they would read too much into Ukraine’s early successes due to the possibility of congested supply lines, adding that it would be a mistake to underestimate the capabilities of the Russian military.
In the south, the Kherson Offensive faces greater resistance and would suffer heavy casualties as its forces well manned and dug out in Russian positions to cope.
“She [the Russians] have very good electronic warfare. They have very good artillery. They do have some high-tech weapons. . . So you have to be careful, you always have to respect the opponent,” said General Wesley Clarke, a former supreme NATO commander.
Russia is reportedly already sending more troops. Ukraine’s General Staff said 1,200 Chechen troops had been sent to reinforce Russian positions around Kherson. Videos posted on social media on Saturday would also show the Russian army helicopter with fresh troops to reinforce Izyum.