Ukrainian forces “appear to have won the Battle of Kharkiv,” according to a group of US defense think tanks, in what appears to be their fastest advance since Russian troops withdrew from kyiv and the northeast more than one month.
In another apparent setback for Vladimir Putin’s war aims, analysts said on Saturday that Russian units had not attempted to hold their lines against counter-attacks by Ukrainian troops around the city.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city and just 50 kilometers from the Russian border, has been under enemy shelling since the war began in February.
But the US-based Institute for the Study of War said in its last evaluation of the conflict that the Russians seemed to be backing down and intended to replace their own troops with proxy forces or mercenaries.
“Ukraine appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv,” the institute said. “Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone taking Kharkiv, and then pushed them out from around the city, as they did with Russian forces trying to take kyiv.”
Russian units had “generally not attempted to hold their own against counterattack by Ukrainian forces in recent days, with a few exceptions.”
“Reports from Western officials and a video from a Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) official indicate that Moscow is focused on conducting an orderly withdrawal and prioritizing the return of Russians home before allowing delegated forces into Russia. instead of trying to hold their positions close to Russia. the city.”
Ukraine now controls the territory that extends to the Siverskyi Donets River, some 25 miles (40 km) east of the city.
“We are entering a new and long phase of the war,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a Facebook post on Friday night, predicting “extremely tough weeks” during which he said Ukraine would be in largely alone against an “enraged assailant.”
However, Moscow continues to bombard villages north of Kharkiv. About six miles north of the city, firefighters doused the smoldering wreckage in Dergachi after what local authorities said was a nighttime Russian missile attack on the House of Culture, used to distribute aid. Volunteers inside were trying to salvage packages of diapers and baby formula.
“I can’t call it anything other than a terrorist act,” the mayor, Vyacheslav Zadorenko, told Reuters. “They wanted to attack the base where we store supplies and create a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Earlier on Friday, British defense intelligence said Russia had lost “significant armored maneuver elements” from a battalion tactical group, usually around 800, in a failed attempt to cross a strategically important river in the southeastern Donbas. from Kharkiv.
Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said Russian forces had been pushed back three times when trying to cross the Siverskyi Donets River, losing armor and bridging equipment.
“We have eliminated the Russian speedboats and helicopters, which they used to cover their attempts,” the governor added, while aerial photos showed destroyed pontoon and armored bridges on the riverbanks.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted images of a smashed pontoon bridge and destroyed armored vehicles in Bilohorivka on Wednesday, describing them as victims of “17 tank brigade gunners.”
Analysts believe that Russian attempts to gain territory in Donbas are increasingly focused on Severodonetsk, the easternmost city held by Ukrainian forces, with Russian forces attempting to cross the river in an attempt to isolate the city.
However, the War Institute said the Russians had “made no progress” with an attempted ground offensive from Izium, and the Kremlin might not have enough troops to complete an encirclement of Severodonetsk.
“The Russians may not have enough additional fresh combat power to make up for those losses and continue the offensive on a large enough scale to complete the encirclement, although they are likely to continue trying,” the institute said.
Other key developments in the war were:
“Very difficult negotiations” are taking place on the next stage of evacuations from Mariupol and the Azovstal steel plant, where the last remaining Ukrainian defenders in the city are sheltering, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his last night address. “We do not stop trying to save all our people from Mariupol and Azovstal. Very difficult negotiations are currently taking place on the next stage of the evacuation mission: the rescue of the seriously injured doctors.”
Zelenskiy also warned that the war and Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports were “causing a large-scale food crisis,” adding that “Russian officials also openly threaten the world that there will be famine in dozens of countries.” .
Russia will cut off electricity supplies to Finland from 1 a.m. on Saturday, the provider, RAO Nordic, said, amid rising tensions over Helsinki’s bid to join NATO. US President Joe Biden expressed support for the right of Finland and Sweden “to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements” in a call with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
In their first conversation since the invasion, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone Friday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, calling for an immediate ceasefire and stressing the importance of open lines of communication.
Foreign ministers from the G7 group of wealthy nations backed giving Ukraine more aid and weapons, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced additional military support worth 500 million euros ($520 million). dollars) which should be approved next week by EU members. . He expressed confidence that the bloc will agree to an embargo on Russian oil. Ukraine’s foreign minister told the meeting in Germany that he expected Hungary, which opposes the EU, to accept the oil embargo. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wants hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation before agreeing to the ban.