On Monday, Ukrainian forces broke through the front and advanced quickly down the Dnipro River, posing a danger to thousands of Russian troops’ supply lines. This was their largest success in the south of the country since the war started.
Russian sources admitted that a Ukrainian tank attack had advanced dozens of kilometers along the river’s west bank while retaking a number of settlements, however Kyiv did not officially confirm the successes.
The development is similar to previous victories in the east of Ukraine that have changed the course of the conflict with Russia, despite Moscow’s attempts to increase the stakes by annexing land, ordering mobilization, and threatening nuclear reprisal.
“The information is tense, let’s put it that way, because, yes there were indeed breakthroughs,” Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed leader in occupied parts of Ukraine’s Kherson province told Russian state television.
“There’s a settlement called Dudchany, right along the Dnipro River, and right there, in that region, there was a breakthrough. There are settlements that are occupied by Ukrainian forces,” he said.
Dudchany is about 30 km (20 miles) south of where the front stood before the breakthrough, indicating one of the fastest advances of the war and by far the most rapid in the south, where Russian forces had been entrenched in heavily reinforced positions along a primarily static front line since the early weeks of the invasion.
Some authorities did discuss what they described as unsubstantiated claims of victories, but Kyiv remained largely silent, as it has in the past during significant offensives.
A photo of Ukrainian troops standing with their flag draped over a golden angel statue was uploaded by Anton Gerashchenko, a consultant to the interior ministry of Ukraine. He stated that it was the settlement of Mikhailivka, located around 20 kilometres behind the prior front.
“In the last days, we have seen the first photo of Osokorivka… we have seen our troops near the entrance to Mykhailivka, we have seen our troops in Khreschenivka, next to the monument. This means that Zolota Balka also is under the control of our armed forces, and it means that our armed forces are moving powerfully along the banks of the Dnipro nearer to Beryslav,” Serhiy Khlan, a Kherson regional council member, told Reuters, naming villages in the area.
“Officially, there is no such information yet, but the (Russian) social media pages which are panicking… absolutely confirm these photos.”
Similar Tactics To East
The advance in the south mirrors the tactics that have brought Kyiv major gains since the start of September in eastern Ukraine, where its forces swiftly seized territory to gain control of Russian supply lines, cutting off larger Russian forces and forcing them to retreat.
Just hours after a concert on Moscow’s Red Square on Friday where Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be Russian territory forever, Ukraine recaptured Lyman, the main Russian bastion in the north of Donetsk province.
That has opened the way for it to advance deep into Luhansk province, threatening the main supply routes to territory Moscow captured in some of the war’s bloodiest battles in June and July.
In the south, Ukraine’s advance targets supply lines for thousands of Russian troops – perhaps as many as 25,000 – on the west bank of the Dnipro. Ukraine has already destroyed the main bridges, forcing Russian forces to use makeshift crossings. A substantial advance down river could cut them off entirely.
“The fact we have broken through the front means that … the Russian army has already lost the ability to attack, and today or tomorrow it could lose the ability to defend,” said Oleh Zhdanov, a military analyst based in Kyiv.
“A month of our work destroying their supplies and reducing the combat effectiveness of this group means that they are functioning on minimal rations in terms of ammunition, fuel and food.”
Putin has been responding to Russia’s failures on the battlefield over the past month by escalating: proclaiming the annexation of occupied territory, calling up tens of thousands of men as reservists and threatening nuclear retaliation.
On Monday, Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament which is firmly under the control of Putin’s ruling party, passed bills endorsing the annexation of the four partly occupied Ukrainian provinces.
But Russia’s flagging fortunes have led to a shift in mood on once triumphal state media, where talkshow hosts have been acknowledging setbacks and searching for scapegoats.
“For a certain period of time, things won’t be easy for us. We shouldn’t be expecting good news right now,” said Vladimir Solovyov, the most prominent presenter on state TV.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Putin leader of Russia’s Chechnya province who commands a personal army, demanded the commander of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine be stripped of his medals and sent to the front line.
Kadyrov also said Russia should use a nuclear weapon. Putin and other officials have said they could use nuclear weapons to protect Russian territory including newly annexed provinces, but had so far stopped short of explicitly saying they will do so. Asked about Kadyrov’s remarks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “This is a very emotional moment.”
“The heads of regions have the right to express their point of view,” Peskov told reporters. “Even at difficult moments, emotions should still be excluded from any assessments.”
Putin’s other big gamble, Russia’s first mass military mobilisation since World War Two, has been mired in chaos. Tens of thousands of Russian men have been called up, while similar numbers have fled abroad. Western countries say Moscow lacks the supplies and manpower to train or equip the new conscripts.
Mikhail Degtyarev, governor of the Khabarovsk region in Russia’s Far East, said on Monday around half of those called up there had been found unfit and sent home. He fired the region’s military commissar.