Ukraine’s lightning-fast counter-offensive continues Monday, as Kyiv’s chief commander General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi declared more than 3,000 square kilometers of territory recaptured since the start of the month, forcing Russian troops from more than 20 towns and villages.
Ukrainian soldiers are in firm control of the northeastern Kharkiv region, having arrived at the border with Russia. Moscow appears to be reeling from the losses as thousands of Russian troops abandoned their positions, leaving behind huge stocks of ammunition and equipment.
Vitaly Ganchev, the Russian-installed head of Moscow’s occupation administration in the Kharkiv region, acknowledged that Ukraine’s troops had broken through, ordering civilians to evacuate from the Russian-occupied parts. Ukrainian forces outnumbered Russian troops by eight times during the counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region, a Russian-installed official said.
Attention, meanwhile, is expected to now shift southward. Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, said Monday that Ukrainian forces had retaken five settlements in the southern Kherson region. Over the weekend, Russians continued to retreat from areas that had been occupied since March, and villages within five kilometers of the border were raising the Ukrainian flag.
If Kyiv could retake the city of Kherson, where its 290,000 residents have been under Russian occupation since it was captured in the first week of the invasion, it could mark a veritable watershed in the war.
Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov released a statement Monday, declaring that the Kremlin was doubling down and Russia will achieve the goals of its “special military operation in Ukraine.” According to the UK’s Ministry of Defense, with Ukrainian operations also continuing in Kherson, the Russian defensive front is under pressure on both its northern and southern sides.
Power lines and factory chimneys in Dniprovsky District
Following Russian missile strikes on Sunday, parts of eastern Ukraine including the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions have been left without electricity, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
He added via Twitter that “Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy have problems with the power supply as well.” The power blackouts were also confirmed by local officials, including the Kharkiv mayor.
The blackout comes a day after a counterattack by Ukrainian troops forced the Russian army to retreat from regions in Kharkiv. Zelensky has accused Moscow of deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in acts of revenge: “Even through the impenetrable darkness, Ukraine and the civilized world clearly see these terrorist acts. Deliberate and cynical missile strikes on critical civilian infrastructure. No military facilities,” he said via Telegram.
Several independent Russian and Belarusian outlets, like the video news channel Vot Tak TV, are reporting that the most ardent supporters of Moscow’s invasion have been condemning the Russian army’s retreat from Kharkiv over the past 24 hours, and are calling on the Kremlin to mobilize the troops for an all-out war.
There are also reports of panic within Belgorod, the Russian city just 20 miles now from Ukrainian troops at the border. “Many people are afraid that we will be made into a sacrificial lamb. A Belgorod People’s Republic, as they write in Ukraine,” Russian Verstkaquotes a Belgorod resident. “Of course, it’s nice to smell the flowers, eat watermelons and watch on TV how bad everything is in Europe and what is being built in Moscow. But ordinary people want to know at least the approximate actions if there is an attack on our city. At the sound of the alarm, should I run to the basement or stay home?”
Another local recalled that Moscow boasted early in the war that if “even one shot was fired on Russian territory, measures will be taken. And ordinary ordinary people on the Internet wrote that nothing would happen to US! […] Wake up, people, this is the Third World War. It’s time to mobilize all the border areas.”
Li Zhanshu meeting with Vladimir Putin
China’s Xi Jinping is set to meet with Russia’s Vladimir Putin this week at a summit in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan. It will be the Chinese leader’s first trip abroad since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just a month away from what is expected to be his election to a third term in office.
But at this moment, it is most significant in light of his meeting with Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine is facing a major counter-offensive by Kyiv.
Senior Russian and Chinese officials have continued to play up their united front, in preparation for the long-awaited face-to-face between the two heads of state. Beijing has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, instead repeatedly blaming the conflict on NATO and the United States.
The visit comes after the revelation over the weekend of last week’s meeting between Li Zhanshu, China’s third-ranking leader of the Chinese Communist Party, and a close ally of Xi, and Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia’s State Duma, and other Russian lawmakers in Moscow.
According to the Russian lawmakers, Li voiced explicit support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, saying, “On the Ukrainian issue, we see how they have put Russia in an impossible situation. And in this case, Russia made an important choice and responded firmly.”
These claims are not included in the statement from the Chinese side, and run contrary to Beijing’s previous efforts to maintain a veneer of neutrality.
“Something New in the East,” German daily die Tageszeitung declares on its front page, reporting on the success of Ukrainian forces in pushing Russia back in the northeast.
The headline is a play on the 1929 German book Im Westen nichts Neues (literally meaning “In the West Nothing New,” the World War I novel by Erich Maria Remarque translated into English as All Quiet on the Western Front, adapted into an Academy Award-winning film in 1930).
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht
Germany will not be supplying Ukraine with “main battle tanks”, according to the German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht. “No country has delivered Western-built infantry fighting vehicles or main battle tanks so far,” Lambrecht said in Berlin on Monday according to German Die Welt. “We have agreed with our partners that Germany will not take such action unilaterally.”
The announcement comes at a time when calls for Germany to support Ukraine’s advances in the northeast by delivering tanks are growing. Amy Gutmann, the U.S. new ambassador in Berlin, has urged the German government to “take more of a leadership role.”
“We have to do even more,” she added. “We are defending our own prosperity, our own democracy when we support Ukraine. My impression is that Germany wants to take more of a leadership role, and we hope that it will fulfill that.”
Russian soldier near the Zaporizhzhia power plant
French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his demand for a ceasefire in Ukraine and Russian withdrawal from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to information released by the Elysee Presidential Palace.
Meanwhile, Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said “he remains gravely concerned about the situation” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) as long as any shelling continues.
Zaporizhzhia is the site of the largest nuclear plant in Europe. The facility sits in the Russian occupied part of southern Ukraine and has been on the fire line between Russian and Ukrainian forces.