Ukraine never had it so good. In an unequal 200-day-old war, Ukraine is reclaiming now more captured territories in its east and northeast. The strategically important railroad junction of Balakliia and the logistical hub of Izium have been reclaimed. Encouraged, Ukraine is now moving into more such territories under Russian control. The planet is wowing Ukraine now for its zesty counter-offensive blitzes. With Russian forces out of the east and the northeast, the territories once thought lost are back with Ukraine. Today, Russia is reeling and retreating.

What is the extent of this Ukrainian reclamation? General Valery Zaluzhny, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, says Ukraine has reclaimed more than 3,000 square kilometres of territory since the September offensive. This is larger than what Russia had captured since April.  If Zaluzhny is to be believed, this multi-pronged Ukrainian offensive will accelerate in the coming days. Can Ukraine make the Russian forces retreat further? Going by the September offensive, Ukraine can.

Stepping on the Gas Now

The real Ukraine victory was in Kharkiv. Once a Russian stronghold, Kharkiv is now slipping out of the Russian grip lock, stock and barrel. With Ukraine re-capturing the key Kharkiv village of Chkalovske, Russia’s rout is complete in eastern Ukraine. Enthused by this recapture, Ukraine is stepping on the gas now in the many mining hubs of Donbas, the economic region of eastern Ukraine. Donbas continues to be Russia’s key target in this Ukraine war.

Ukraine’s show in Kharkiv has given the boost Ukraine was looking for. Besides Ukrainian forces and citizens are clamouring for more sophisticated weapons, the ever-helpful west too is now keen to supply them to Ukraine. Quite understandable as Ukraine could reclaim more than 1,000 square kilometres of its territory in the first week of September alone. With high chances of Ukraine reclaiming the Lyman town in the Donetsk region, the war could flip in favour of Ukraine.

Upsetting Die-Hard Putinists

Much of the gratitude for this gutsy Ukraine show should go to the United States. After all, America has been arming Ukraine with real and reliable intelligence on Russia’s military strengths, besides the sophisticated ‘harm’, the feared high-speed anti-radiation missiles. These surface-to-air (sam) missiles have destroyed much of Russian air-defence radar in Kharkiv. Such is harm’s power.

Undeniably, this Russian debacle in the east and the northeast is causing great misery for the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, whose prior attempts to seize the Ukrainian capital Kiev had failed. Add to this, retreating from captured territories and relinquishing military hardware are demoralising Russian forces, besides upsetting die-hard Putinists.

Consider, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic and a loyal Putinist, expressed his dismay over Putin’s latest military debacle. This shows shock is spreading fast, both within Russian forces and within Russian civil society as well. Military blogs in Russia are said to be going wild with posts reeking of bitterness and sarcasm.

The Tactical and Logistical Edge

Clearly, Putin is at his wit’s end today. Heavy Russian casualties and serious logistic bottlenecks are adding to Putin’s miseries. These will be Putin’s new set of challenges tomorrow. Good reason why global military strategists say Putin’s setbacks in the east and the northeast will cause a broader crucial shift in the ongoing Ukraine war. Bad luck for Putin.

If these experts are to be believed, Ukraine has the tactical and logistical edge in the coming days of winter. Such an edge will reshape what was once seen as an attritional war. With the otherwise keep-mum Germany expressing keenness now to help Ukraine with weapons, including antitank rocket launchers, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, Strela surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank mines, besides self-propelled armoured howitzers, Gepard anti-aircraft armoured vehicles and multiple-launch rocket systems, global winds are blowing forcefully towards Ukraine.

Too Early to Say This

Thus, the Ukraine war is clearly at a turning point. Losses of logistical hubs of Izium and Kupiansk, besides capital Kiev, have become worrisome portents for Russia. But, these losses are presenting themselves as turning points for Ukraine. Particularly because Ukraine is tasting success in frustrating Putin’s plans to take over the rich Donbas region. Bad luck for Putin, Ukraine may succeed in reclaiming strategic cities of Severodonestsk and Kherson. Russian forces say they are regrouping in many captured Ukrainian territories. This clearly shows Ukraine is winning. Sure, the Ukraine war is poised at a turning point.

However, it may be too early to arrive at such a conclusion. There are quite a few negatives for Ukraine. The blue-and-yellow forces are stretching too thin and the ground situation remains fluid. Nearly 20 per cent of Ukraine continues to be controlled by Russia. Regrouping his forces is Putin’s first step. Staring into an abyss of defeat, Putin is sure to escalate the war. Plus, Putin sees the approaching winter as a blessing to make his strategies work. But, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his forces are confident of reclaiming the Russian-captured cities of Svatove, Rubizhne, Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.  This undiluted Ukrainian confidence is causing heartburn for the disintegrating Russian forces.

Blocking Russia’s Access to Crimea

Ukraine needs to bolster this confidence with another battle-ready military formation in order to carry out this reclamation. This apart, Ukraine should open the Zaporizhzhia front to block Russia’s access to Crimea. Such an offensive should have been launched before the Kherson initiative. Nevertheless, Ukraine can do this to gain a major edge over Russia and it should.

Amidst these must’s and should’s, Ukraine’s successful counteroffensives in the east and the northeast have completely taken Russia by surprise. The consequences have been terrible for Putin. One, Putinists are talking openly of a potential Russian defeat. Two, the West appears convinced Ukraine can win the war with right weapons. Three, more sophisticated military assistance should flow into Ukraine. Consider America’s defence secretary Lloyd Austin III saying in Prague on 9 September Ukraine’s Kherson and Kharkiv offensives are encouraging. 03/secretary-of-defense-lloyd-j-austin-iii-and-czech-minister-of-defensejana-cern/

In Conclusion

Though Ukraine’s show is encouraging, minefields alive in Ukraine. Russian threat continues to dangle over Ukraine’s killing fields. Plus, it is not hunky-dory on the Ukraine war front. This is what the Financial Times’ columnist Gideon Rachman has to say:  “A defeated Russia would not disappear off the map. It would still possess large numbers of nuclear weapons, as well as a replenished stock of grievances. So many dangers clearly lie ahead. But, sometimes good news has to be recognised for what it is.” Viewed through this lens of optimism, Ukrainian victories in the east and the northeast are clearly Ukraine’s wow moments.