As Kyiv's forces advance in the south and east of the country, forcing Russian troops to retreat, the conflict in Ukraine is poised to enter a critical phase.
Recent days have seen Ukrainian forces break through Russian lines in the southern province of Kherson, liberating several villages near the Dnieper River. Kyiv's military now command villages located approximately 30 kilometers beyond the previous combat lines.
According to Reuters, Ukrainian forces are attempting to sever the supply lines of the 25,000 Russian troops stationed on the western bank of the river.
Monday, the Russian Ministry of Defense stated that "superior tank divisions" near the town of Zolota Balka allowed Ukrainian forces to breach Russian fortifications.
After recovering ground lost in the early days of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian forces are elated. According to Yaroslav, a Ukrainian soldier manning the front lines outside of Kherson, morale is good.
"Compared to what it was before, the morale of the lads and the entire situation have improved significantly. As a result of successes, there is some light at the end of the tunnel," he remarked.
In the east, Ukrainian soldiers are likewise consolidating territory gains. After Ukrainian troops nearly besieged Lyman in Donetsk Oblast over the weekend, Moscow's forces withdrew from the city. The streets were strewn with destroyed Russian tanks and dead servicemen.
The Ukrainian military announced on Thursday that its troops had moved as far as 55 kilometers into formerly Russian-occupied territory, liberating 93 villages and seizing control of more than 2,400 square kilometers. The claim was not verifiable by VOA.
In an interview with VOA, Karolina Hird, a Russia specialist at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, cited a combination of very poor Russian capabilities in these areas as the driving force behind the significant Ukrainian gains in the last 24 to 48 hours and even before. According to sources, the forces in the northern Kherson Oblast are completely understrength, understaffed, and stretched out along a very, very long front line that the Russian troops cannot possibly man.
This week, the United States announced an additional $625 million in security aid for Kyiv, including four additional precision-guided HIMARS multiple rocket launchers. According to Ukraine, these weapons played a crucial role in the recent counteroffensive.
Oleksandra Matviichuk, a human rights attorney and the director of the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, stated that the West must grab the moment and assist Ukraine in defeating Vladimir Putin.
"Ukraine needs additional weaponry because while the Russian people will tolerate war criminals, they will not tolerate losing them. This military failure in Ukraine is the first indication of Putin's falling popularity in Russia, according to Matviyuk.
Putin signed annexation documents for four eastern Ukrainian regions on Wednesday, a move deemed unconstitutional by the majority of the international community. Charles Kupchan, the senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, stated that the war is entering a critical phase.
"It's becoming a make-or-break situation for Putin. His ability to survive depends in part on his ability to say, "I have successfully defended and expanded the Russian homeland." Nobody is aware of where this will lead. But it's safe to argue that this is Mr. Putin's most precarious time since he assumed power almost 20 years ago," Kupchan told Reuters.
Putin's declaration that he will use any means necessary to preserve Russia has sparked fears that he may employ tactical nuclear weapons. James Acton, co-director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program, told VOA that it is difficult to forecast Russia's next action.
He stated, "Stuff is trending very badly for Russia," "I don't know how bad things would have to get for Russia to seriously consider deploying nuclear weapons. Putin may not even be aware of how dire the situation would have to be for him to deploy nuclear weapons.
"The goal is to terrify Ukraine, its Western backers — the United States in particular — that the threat of further escalation, the threat of an even worse all-out nuclear war, could terrify them into backing down."
Russia is currently attempting to turn the tide with conventional forces. More than 200,000 individuals have been recruited into the armed forces since the partial mobilization was announced two weeks ago, according to the Defense Ministry. The initial objective of the Kremlin was to attract 300,000 men into the military.
According to Hird of the Institute for the Study of War, the mobilization will have a little immediate effect on territorial losses in Russia.
It is unlikely that these forces will provide any further defensive or offensive capabilities shortly. Long-term, it is unlikely that these troops will be well-trained or highly motivated," she said.