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Putin’s Troubles Grow as Ukraine Breaks Through Kherson

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Ukrainian troops appeared to be making big new gains on Monday, with pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin mounting as the Kremlin faced growing domestic unease over the state of its struggling army and chaotic efforts to bolster it.

Kiev’s forces advanced in the east and south of the country, threatening a major new breakthrough and forcing Putin’s soldiers to withdraw from the area he claimed to have annexed in a grand ceremony last week.

Moscow has linked its annexation claims to a call from reservists and new nuclear threats, a wide-ranging intervention that has not only threatened to escalate its clash with Ukraine’s western allies but also exposed domestic vulnerabilities.

Russian lawmakers on Monday ratified the illegal annexation of four partially occupied Ukrainian regions: Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhya in the south. But while the Kremlin said it had not yet determined where the borders would be set for its newly claimed land, the areas under its control were quickly pushed back.

Progress in Kherson

Moscow said its forces abandoned Lyman this weekend to avoid encirclement, with Western officials and observers hailing Ukraine’s recapture of the city in the eastern Donetsk region as an important development that could pave the way for further progress.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also said his army had recaptured two settlements in the southern Kherson region. “Our soldiers’ successes are not limited to Lyman,” he said in a statement to Telegram on Sunday.

That was the first official sign of significant Ukrainian gains in the south, where Russia concentrated the majority of its forces to repel a long-lauded counter-offensive — opening itself up to a surprise attack in the northeast that turned the tide of the war.

After weeks of slow progress and relentless artillery fire in the south, Ukraine appeared to be emerging there as well.

“Superior enemy tank units have managed to squeeze into the depths of our defences,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in an update to Telegram.

“The information is tense, let’s put it this way, because yes, there were indeed breakthroughs,” Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed leader in the occupied parts of Kherson, told Russian state television, according to Reuters.

“There’s a settlement called Dudchany right along the Dnieper River, and right there, in that region, there was a (Ukrainian) breakthrough,” he said. That would represent a major forward thrust of about 20 miles, threatening thousands of Russian troops on the west bank of the river.

Domestic discomfort

Ukraine’s successes, despite the announced annexation of Russia, have contributed to mounting pressure on Putin, with voices usually supporting the Kremlin and criticizing Russia’s performance in the war.

“The Russian defeat in the Kharkiv and Lyman Oblast, combined with the Kremlin’s failure to conduct a partial mobilization effectively and fairly, is fundamentally changing the Russian information space,” the Institute for War Study said in its latest update.

Discussion of the conflict “has diverged significantly from the narratives the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) prefer that things are generally under control,” added the US-based military thinker.

The country’s state media has reflected the increasingly pessimistic tone.

“For a period of time we will not have it easy. We should not expect good news at this time,” Vladimir Solovyov, the most prominent presenter on state television, said on Sunday.

Dmitry Sablin, a senior lawmaker, said on Solovyov’s show that Russian troops should “stop and regroup” and face all kinds of shortages.

Image:
While Putin’s announced annexation has been celebrated at patriotic rallies in Russia and the territories it occupies, the domestic mood has become less positive.AP

Nationalist Russian military bloggers have criticized the direction of the war in recent days, with many reporting the latest setbacks on the battlefield.

“When so many Russian channels are sounding the alarm, it usually means they’re in trouble,” Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a think tank, said on Twitter.

Putin has attempted to bolster his ailing forces by calling in hundreds of thousands of men, a partial mobilization marked by chaotic conscription efforts and an exodus of many fleeing conscription.

About half of the soldiers conscripted in a region of Russia’s far east were sent home after being found unfit to serve in the military, the local governor said Monday.

The region’s military commissar was also removed from office, Khabarovsk Governor Mikahil Degtyarev said in a statement on his Telegram channel.

The Kremlin’s declaration of partial mobilization exposed the general Russian public to the consequences of the defeat around Kharkov and then at Lyman, nullifying the Kremlin’s efforts to portray the war as limited and generally successful. done,” according to the Institute for the Study of War.

In a further sign of uncertainty, it remained unclear which country Russia claimed to be annexing to eastern and southern Ukraine.

“We will continue to consult with the people of these regions on the borders,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday in response to a question on the topic.

Putin has vowed to use “all available means” to defend the territory he co-opted, an implied threat of nuclear war to defend his fragile hold on the annexed territory. That grip turned out to be looser with each new update.


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