Despite clear indications for weeks from Ukraine that it planned to launch a massive assault to win back territories in the Donbas region controlled by the Kremlin, Russian troops “failed to organize a coherent retreat” when the attack finally hit, Newsweek reports.
The counterattack reported Thursday in the northeastern Kharkiv region was a surprise after Ukraine had talked publicly for weeks about its intention of starting a large-scale offensive in the southern Kherson region, Newsweek noted.
Russia had put more forces in the south in response to an attack in Kherson, leaving its front lines in Kharkiv Oblast thin, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, wrote on its website. And with Ukraine making progress much more quickly than analysts had expected, Russia appears to have been forced into hasty retreat, leaving tanks and other military equipment behind, according to social media posts.
“Ukrainian forces have inflicted a major operational defeat on Russia, recapturing almost all Kharkiv Oblast in a rapid counter-offensive,” ISW wrote. “The Ukrainian success resulted from skillful campaign design and execution that included efforts to maximize the impact of Western weapons systems such as HIMARS.”
“Kyiv’s long discussion and then an announcement of a counter-offensive operation aimed at Kherson Oblast drew substantial Russian troops away from the sectors on which Ukrainian forces have conducted decisive attacks in the past several days,” the post continued.
“Russian troops likely withdrew from the area in great haste, and social media posts show abandoned tanks and other heavy military equipment near Izyum, which indicates that Russian troops failed to organize a coherent retreat.”
The move has demoralized Russians, bringing criticism from state television and pro-military bloggers, and calls for President Vladimir Putin to resign have come from Moscow municipal officials.
The Kharkiv counterattack has also strained the Kremlin’s relationship with the Ministry of Defense, according to ISW, “further alienating Putin from the higher military command.”
Despite the setbacks, Putin has postponed all meetings with senior Russian defense officials as well, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
Ukraine now appears in position to call the shots on where and how the war is fought.