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In the first few weeks of September, Ukrainian forces retook more than 2,300 square miles of territory that Russia had occupied. In what the BBC called “a potential breakthrough in the war,” Ukraine had control over cities in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, driving back Russian forces in what some experts were describing as a rout but which Russian officials were calling a “regrouping.”
The speed and scope of Ukraine’s blitzkrieg-like advance surprised Western military observers, reported Politico. Ukraine has deployed relatively few forces to the northeast but they have the latest Western weapons and highly motivated veteran troops. The Russians occupying the land were mostly ill-trained conscripts. Their leaders, meanwhile, have been slow to innovate and take advantage of intelligence on the ground, argued Washington Post columnist Max Boot.
In fact, the retreat of Russian soldiers stunned some villagers, who reported seeing Russians literally dropping their rifles and running away, be that on stolen bicycles, on foot, any way they could, the Post reported. Tanks, meanwhile, were just left abandoned.
It’s the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that have been instrumental in Ukraine’s battlefield victories, explained Newsweek. In a war that often comes down to dueling artillery, the HIMARS’ range, accuracy and potency have laid waste to Russian military hardware. Voices in Europe are clamoring for more Western military aid to further bolster Ukraine. Pressure is mounting on Germany, for example, to do more to help the former Soviet republic repel the invasion from its larger neighbor, the New York Times added.
“It is 100 percent true that more weapons mean more Ukrainian territory,” a European diplomat told the Financial Times. “And less blood, (fewer) tears.” The success of the deadly technology has sparked a run on the weapons too, the Associated Press wrote, as other countries now want the same capability.
In Russia, the defeat is shaking the loyalty of some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s core supporters. Far-right nationalists are already talking about how Putin has stabbed Russia’s troops in the back, explained Foreign Policy magazine. These nationalists are saying the Russian president has failed to devote sufficient resources or more competent tacticians to the conflict, which Russian officials call a “special operation.”
As CNN reported, the ex-leader of the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic militia in eastern Ukraine recently noted that Russian generals failed to support frontline units sufficiently with air support. Municipal leaders in St. Petersburg, Moscow and other cities have braved potential criminal liability for undermining the Russian war effort by issuing rare calls for Putin to resign, according to Radio Free Liberty.
Russia still occupies massive swathes of Ukrainian territory, of course. Nobody knows for how long, though. In the meantime, Ukrainians are rejoicing, not least because they were able to force a rare admission of defeat from Russia.
That in itself is remarkable.