Russia no longer has complete control over any of the four provinces that Ukraine says it annexed last week after Ukrainian troops made gains in the east and advanced dozens of kilometers in the southern Kherson province in the south.
The Russian military recently acknowledged that Ukrainian forces had recently broken through in Kherson with its “superior tank units” and army managing to “penetrate the depths of our defense” around the villages of Galka, Alexsandrovka, and Zoltaya.
According to Igor Konashenkov, ministry of defense spokesperson, Russian troops had occupied a “pre-prepared defensive line” while continuing to “inflict massive fire damage” to Ukrainian troops.
Konashenkov’s comments acknowledge that the Ukrainian forces’ southern counter-offensive is gaining speed two months after it began. Since the war started in February, Ukrainian units have been methodically achieving their most significant breakthrough in the region, advancing rapidly and bursting through Russia’s frontline.
Russian sources acknowledge that the tank offensive by Ukraine had pushed through, threatening supply lines for thousands of stranded Russian troops and recapturing several villages along the way.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s 129th brigade had liberated the settlements of Myrolyubivka and Arkhanhelske in the northern Kherson region. Soldiers were seen flying the Ukrainian flag from the top of a roof damaged by shells in Myrolyubivka.
According to some online Russian military bloggers, Ukraine’s advance was notable, claiming troops had advanced about 30 kilometers from where the front once stood, indicating the swiftest advances of the war.
Advisor to Ukraine’s interior ministry, Anton Gerashchenko, posted a photo of Ukrainian soldiers posing with a statue of an angel draped in Ukraine’s blue and gold flag.
In a clear sign of the turbulence currently inside Russia’s army command, Col-Gen Alexander Zhuravlyov, head of the western military district, was recently fired. Zhuavlyov’s district is one of the five that comprise Russia’s armed forces. The move follows criticism by Ramzan Kadyrov, president of Chechnya, of Putin’s chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov.
“This is obviously related to the war blunders, which are becoming harder to hide. The Kremlin is looking for scapegoats,” said one former Russian defense ministry official. “The pressure on the commander of the Russian armed forces, Valery Gerasimov, will only increase,” the minister said.
Zelenskyy dismisses the Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory as a “farce”
In a recent address, Zelenskyy dismissed the Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory as a “farce.” The Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia provinces had been annexed by “someone somewhere,” referring to Putin, after recently-held “pseudo-referendums.”
“When the Ukrainian flag is returned, no one remembers the Russian farce with some pieces of paper,” said Zelenskyy. “Except, of course, the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine. Because everyone who is involved in any elements of aggression against our state will be accountable for it.”
Putin brought together four Russian-picked “leaders” for the occupied Ukrainian regions for a grand signing ceremony. The Russian president declared that the territories were Russia’s “forever” and said he would use “all available means” to defend them, a veiled threat to nuclear weapons. The lower house of parliament — the Russian State Duma — appeared to rubber-stamp the move.
However, the strategy used by the Kremlin rapidly unraveled in the face of confusion and embarrassing battlefield defeats as to where Russia’s newly-drawn international “borders” were. Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, failed to clarify the losses, saying, “We will continue to consult with the people who live in these areas.”
Senior advisors for Zelenskyy point out the absurdity of Russia “annexing” territory while losing control. The Kremlin has been busy trying to coerce Ukrainian employees to sign contracts with its state nuclear agency, Rosatom.
Russia continues to occupy about 15% of Ukraine. However, Ukraine has reclaimed large swathes of land since September, using twin counter-offensives in the south and northeast. It is yet to be seen what effect Putin’s recent forced conscription of troops will have on the war.