The Daily Telegraph

Putin’s dream is collapsing before our eyes

If Ukraine can sustain its impressive gains, the Kremlin knows that its war ambitions are in trouble

- Con coughlin

It is a sure sign that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is not going exactly to plan when even Russian officials are conceding that they have suffered a major defeat during the latest Ukrainian offensive.

Throughout this conflict, the Kremlin’s first instinct on suffering any serious setback on the battlefiel­d is to indulge in a blatant cover-up. This was the case in April when the Ukrainians succeeded in destroying the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Rather than admit the warship had been sunk by missile strikes, Moscow instead tried to persuade the Russian public that a mysterious onboard explosion had been to blame.

That Russian commentato­rs are now readily conceding that the Ukrainians have achieved a “significan­t victory” through their dramatic assault against Russia’s northern front suggests that, for all the Kremlin’s spin, Putin’s military adventure in Ukraine is in real trouble.

According to the latest military assessment­s, Ukraine’s push to capture several strategic stronghold­s around the north-eastern city of Kharkiv has clawed back territory equating to roughly the size of Lancashire. In what will constitute Russia’s worst defeat since March, when Moscow was forced to abandon its attempts to capture the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian forces have succeeded in taking back dozens of towns and villages close to Kharkiv.

The surprise offensive, which began six days ago, could have potentiall­y catastroph­ic implicatio­ns for Russian forces, as the breakthrou­gh means the Ukrainians are now in a position to threaten Russia’s vital supply lines.

In particular, the capture of the strategica­lly important town Kupyansk by Ukraine’s 92nd Mechanised Brigade on Friday is a major setback for the Russian forces. Kupyansk is the main supply depot for the tens of thousands of Russian forces operating in the Kharkiv area, and its capture means that as many as 15,000 Russian troops are now completely surrounded, without access to military supplies.

The scale of the disaster is forcing even pro-russian officials to acknowledg­e that the Ukrainians are gaining ground in key areas of the conflict. Vitaly Ganchev, a Russian-appointed official based in the region, admitted that Ukraine had won what he called a “significan­t victory”, while Russian-installed regional officials have called on civilians to evacuate the nearby city of Izyum.

Even Moscow concedes that its front line in the Kharkiv region has collapsed, although Russian defence officials insist this is merely a tactical withdrawal that will enable their forces to regroup and launch a counter-offensive.

Neverthele­ss, the columns of abandoned Russian tanks and heavy weapons that litter the recaptured territory tell another story, suggesting that the tide of the conflict has now swung decisively in Kyiv’s favour.

The Ukrainian breakthrou­gh certainly indicates that, far from being the weaker force in the conflict, the Ukrainian military has both the resources and expertise to make a decisive impact on the battlefiel­d against what is technicall­y supposed to be a vastly superior Russian force, both in terms of equipment and manpower.

Progress around Kharkiv, for example, has been achieved through a classic diversiona­ry tactic; Ukraine’s actions suggested that its main objective was to recapture the key strategic southern city of Kherson, which controls access to Russian-occupied ports in Crimea. The Ukrainian move against Kherson forced Russia to redeploy forces further south, thereby weakening its defences in the Kharkiv region.

The Ukrainian war effort, moreover, has benefited enormously from the military support it has received from Nato states such as Britain and the US, especially the long-range Himar missile systems that have enabled the Ukrainians to target and destroy Russian military installati­ons with deadly precision. By contrast, the Russian military appears demoralise­d and incapable of mustering an effective response against the Ukrainian onslaught, a situation that does not bode well for Putin’s dream of reuniting Ukraine with Mother Russia.

If the Ukrainians can sustain the impressive military gains they have achieved over the past few days, then Putin will soon find himself staring into the abyss of a catastroph­ic defeat.

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