© Reuters A wrecked car is seen in front of a damaged residential building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, September 6, 2022, in Salitivaka, one of the worst-hit residential areas following Russia’s attack on Ukraine. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi
In Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of “good news” on Ukraine’s battlefields, saying the army had retaken some towns and villages from Russia in what open-source analysts said appeared to be a deep and sudden push behind Russian lines.
In a late-night speech on Wednesday, President Zelensky said he had received news that some Western analysts had seen Kyiv recapture around 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) of the liberating settlements in the Kharkiv region. ) region.
“This week we have good news from the Kharkiv region. You all have probably seen reports about Ukrainian defenders recently. And I think every (Ukrainian) citizen is proud of our fighters,” Zelensky said.
Kharkiv region borders Russia and the capital, Kharkiv, has been hit by Russian missiles for months after Moscow failed to take it in the first phase of its February 24 invasion.
Although a sign that the situation in the area is still very fluid, Zelensky said it was too early to name the towns and villages that had been recaptured, crediting two airborne brigades and one mechanized brigade for their bravery.
If such a push is confirmed and the results are achieved, it will be a significant incentive for Kiev, which will show its Western supporters that it can change the reality on the ground with force, and should be given continued financial and military support.
There is added pressure on Kiev ahead of winter amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to halt energy shipments to Europe if Brussels goes ahead with a proposal to cap Russian gas prices.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Kiev on Thursday that President Joe Biden had approved an additional $675 million in weapons for Ukraine as he and other defense ministers met in Germany to discuss how to continue supporting Ukraine in the long term.
Pressure behind Russian lines
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which monitors the war daily, said the Ukrainian army appeared to have made significant progress on Wednesday.
“Ukrainian forces may have used tactical surprise to retake an estimated 400 square kilometers of territory on September 7, 20 kilometers into Russian-held territory[in eastern Kharkiv region],” he said.
Russia has confirmed that fighting has taken place in the area, but has not confirmed any territorial losses, although unverified social media accounts run by Russian military experts say Moscow has suffered a setback and must urgently reinforce it.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said in a video posted on YouTube that Ukrainian troops surprised Russian defenders in the town of Balekleya.
“The Russians are saying that Balaklia is under siege when in fact (our troops) are on the move.”
Rodion Miroshnik, a pro-Russian official in the region, said in a telegram that Balaklia was in Russian hands, despite fighting to the north of the city.
Reuters could not confirm the battlefield account, but Yuriy Podoliak, a Ukrainian often cited by pro-Russian officials, said Russian troops were surprised by Ukraine’s progress.
He wrote in a telegram: “The enemy has a relatively small force near Balaklia … It seems that the Russian forces were lying in this advance and waiting for him elsewhere.”
Everything now seems to depend on the speed with which he comes into the war… heavy losses have been incurred.
Ukraine has been talking for weeks about a major counterattack in the south, which is underway, though details about it are scarce. Western military analysts believe Russia may have abandoned itself in other areas as it rushes to strengthen the south.
Heavy fighting broke out near Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Thursday after Kiev warned it had to shut down the plant to avoid a disaster.
In a speech on Wednesday, Putin said Russia would not lose its special military operation in Ukraine, saying the exercise was an attempt to protect his country’s security from an expanding NATO presence.
Asked about the progress of the war, Putin said: “We have not lost anything and we will not lose anything.”
In addition, the latest Western move threatens to cut off energy supplies to Europe if Brussels accepts a proposed price hike on Russian gas, threatening to deprive the Kremlin of funds to finance its war.
Europe usually imports 40% of its gas and 30% of its oil from Russia.
The United States and France say Moscow is using force as a “weapon” to weaken resistance to a European invasion, while Nord Stream 1, the main route of Russian gas to Europe, has been shut down for maintenance.
Russian gas giant Gazprom (MCX: ) GAZP.MM said on Wednesday that Russian supplies to EU countries have fallen by 48% this year, with a total drop of 49% in the UK.
Putin has denied using force as a weapon.