Ukraine pushes Russia into retreat in counteroffensive

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Ukrainian forces on Sunday pushed its counteroffensive in the country’s east, exploiting quick gains they made in a week of fighting that has sharply changed the course of the conflict.

Ukraine’s quick action to reclaim Russia-occupied areas in the northeastern Kharkiv region forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to prevent them from being surrounded and leave behind significant numbers of weapons and munitions in a hasty retreat as the war marked 200 days on Sunday.

The Russians’ pullback marked the biggest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv, at the start of the nearly seven-month war.

The group of Russian forces around Izyum has been key for Moscow’s effort to capture the Donetsk region, and their pullback will now dramatically weaken the Russian capability to press its offensive there.

The retreat drew angry comments from Russian military bloggers, who bemoaned it as a major defeat and urged the Kremlin to respond by stepping up war efforts. Many scathingly criticized Russian authorities for continuing with fireworks and other lavish festivities in Moscow that marked a city holiday on Saturday despite the debacle in Ukraine.

Just as the Russian forces were hastily pulling back from Izyum under Ukrainian fire, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the opening of a huge observation wheel at a Moscow park, a new transport link and a sports arena.

The action underlined the Kremlin’s effort to continue pretending that the war it calls a “special military operation” was going according to plan without affecting the situation in the country.

In a sign of potential rift in the Russian leadership, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, said that the retreat from the Kharkiv region resulted from the Russian military leadership’s blunders.—AP

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