The Daily Telegraph

Putin under pressure


The rout of Russia’s armed forces from cities in eastern Ukraine marks the latest setback for Moscow’s ill-starred invasion. A lightning counter-offensive in the Kharkiv Oblast saw three towns and more than 20 settlement­s recaptured and large quantities of weapons seized after being left behind by fleeing Russian soldiers.

It was further evidence of the invading army’s lack of prowess. What was initially in February supposed to be a swift takeover of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and the imposition of a puppet government loyal to the Kremlin has become a nightmare war of attrition for Vladimir Putin.

The fact remains, however, that Russia still occupies 20 per cent of Ukraine’s territory and pushing its troops out entirely is another matter altogether. Much depends now on how President Putin responds. One immediate reaction was to hit water and power supplies with missiles fired from the Black Sea, plunging the city of Kharkiv into darkness, a cowardly act targeting civilians because the military has proved to be so weak.

Nationalis­ts in Russia are reportedly furious with the humiliatio­n but whether this manifests itself in political pressure on Putin remains to be seen. The danger is that in order to appease hard-liners he prosecutes the war even more brutally than before.

He also retains the ability to turn off the gas on which many western countries depend. With Ukraine continuing to receive crucial arms supplies from Nato, the Kremlin will want Europeans to suffer even if it means hitting their own revenues.

Countries like Germany which are particular­ly exposed to such tactics will have to hold their nerve this coming winter and give Ukraine the support it deserves for its courage.

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