NA ROAD TO BALAKLIE, Ukraine, Sept 13 – Ukraine said on Tuesday it was trying to liberate all of its territory after driving back Russian forces in the country’s northeast with a swift offensive, but called on the West to speed up the delivery of weapons systems to support the advance .
Ukrainian troops have retaken dozens of towns in a stunning battlefield shift since Moscow abandoned its main stronghold in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, marking its worst defeat since the first days of the war.
Fighting was still raging in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyarova told Reuters on Tuesday, adding that Ukrainian forces were making good progress because they were highly motivated and their operation was well planned.
“The goal is to liberate Kharkiv Oblast and others – all territories occupied by the Russian Federation,” she said on her way to Balaklia, a key military supply hub captured by Ukrainian forces late last week and located 74 km (46 miles) away. southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video speech late Monday that the West must speed up the delivery of weapons systems and called on Ukraine’s allies to “strengthen cooperation to defeat Russian terror.”
Since Russia’s February 24 invasion, Washington and its allies have provided billions of dollars in arms to Ukraine, which Kiev says have helped limit Moscow’s gains. Russian forces control about a fifth of the country in the south and east, but Ukraine is now on the offensive in both areas.
Ukraine’s military reported no new advances on Tuesday, saying Russian forces are shelling parts of Kharkiv region recaptured by Ukraine and advancing further south in Donetsk region, which Moscow is trying to capture for separatist proxies.
Ukraine repelled attacks in the Donetsk region, its general staff report said, while Denis Pushilin, head of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, said its forces were repelling Ukrainian attacks and believed the situation would improve.
Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of the neighboring Moscow-occupied Luhansk region, said a major Ukrainian offensive could be expected on Tuesday.
Reuters could not immediately verify reports from the battlefield.
A senior US military official said earlier that Russia had largely ceded territory near Kharkiv in the northeast and pulled many of its troops back across the border. Read more
A video released by Ukraine’s border guards showed what it said were Ukrainian soldiers liberating the town of Vovchansk near the state border with Russia, burning flags and tearing down a poster reading “We are one with Russia.”
A Moscow-based diplomat said progress in the Kharkiv region was encouraging, but expressed caution about next steps.
“We should not get ahead of ourselves,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity, adding that the key question is whether Ukrainian forces will be able to move into the Luhansk region.
“So a significant moment, but not yet the beginning of the end,” the diplomat said, pointing to the importance of the potential impact on Russian morale in the south around Kherson, where Ukraine’s progress has so far been slow.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had made “significant progress” with Western support to ensure they had the equipment they needed.
Washington last week announced its latest weapons program for Ukraine, including munitions for the HIMARS anti-missile systems, and has previously sent Ukraine NASAMS surface-to-air missile systems capable of shooting down aircraft. Read more
Zelensky said Ukraine had recaptured roughly 6,000 square kilometers (2,400 square miles) of territory, double what officials said Sunday. About 600,000 km2 of Ukrainian landmass is roughly equal to the combined area of the West Bank and Gaza.
After being pushed back from the capital Kiev soon after its invasion, Russia has refocused on capturing territory bordering Crimea to the south, which it annexed in 2014, and Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine’s industrial Donbass, which separatists claim they claimed in the same year.
Zelenskyi’s adviser, Mykhailo Podoljak, explained why Ukraine needs more weapons, saying that, first, it needs air defense to protect its civilians and critical infrastructure.
“Secondly, the liberation of Luhansk/Donetsk will cause a domino effect, collapse the ru-frontline and lead to political destabilization. It is possible. Weapons are needed,” he tweeted.
Russia denies targeting civilians and says what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine is designed to degrade its neighbor’s military.
‘HANGING BY A THREAD’
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no discussion of a nationwide mobilization to support the operation in Ukraine.
Criticism of the Russian leadership from online nationalist commentators who called for mobilization was an example of “pluralism”, Peskov told reporters, adding that Russians as a whole continued to support President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin said on Monday that the military operation would continue until it achieved its goals, but avoided asking whether Putin still had confidence in his military leadership.
Ukrainian officials say Russia has responded to Kiev’s successes on the battlefield by shelling power plants and other key infrastructure, causing blackouts in Kharkiv and elsewhere. Russia blamed Ukraine for the outages.
Shelling around the Russian-controlled Zaporizhia nuclear power plant has raised serious concerns about the risk of a radioactive disaster. The UN nuclear watchdog has proposed creating a buffer zone around the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, and both sides are interested in it, the IAEA chief said.
“We are playing with fire,” Rafael Grossi told reporters. “We cannot continue in a situation where we are one step away from a nuclear accident. The safety of the Zaporizhia power plant hangs in the balance.”