Ukraine tipped to deliver ‘major blow’ to Putin’s ‘collapsing’ army

Ukrainian military annihilate Russian vehicle

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The recapture of Kherson by Ukrainian forces will be the next “major blow” for Putin, according to a former Ukrainian army officer. The strategically important port city is located on the western bank of the Dnipro River and provides access to the Black Sea. It fell to the invading Russian army in the first few days of the war, when its defenders fled without putting up a fight.

At the end of August, Ukraine’s military confirmed it had started a counteroffensive to liberate the Kherson province and its regional capital.

The counterattack has made steady progress, with Kyiv’s commanders claiming to have retaken 1,200 square kilometres of territory as of October 9.

Recent days have seen increased speculation that Russia is on the brink of abandoning the city and pulling its forces from the right side of the Dnipro.

Residents in the regional capital even started receiving text messages from Russian occupation authorities on Tuesday, urging them to leave.

Viktor Kovalenko, a former Ukrainian army officer who fought against the Russians in the 2014 war, told that the liberation of the west bank of the Dnipro River and the recapture of Kherson was “a priority objective” for Kyiv before the winter and was a “realistic” goal.

He said: “The battlefield situation is advantageous for them in that area and they are actively exploiting it.

“The recapture of Kherson city will surely be the next major blow for Putin and another hit on the low morale of Russian troops.

“The Russian military is already collapsing.”

If Kyiv succeeds in liberating the regional capital and the province, then the question arises whether Crimea might be the next to fall.

Mr Kovalenko believes that Ukraine’s army does not have the capability just yet to expel the Russians from the peninsula.

He explained: “The recapture of Kherson won’t automatically mean that Crimea will be the next objective for Kyiv anytime soon.

“The peninsula is heavily militarised and the liberation of it requires many Ukrainian reserve brigades.”

He added: “It’s liberation requires a complex military and political solution, may be tough to-level negotiations with the Kremlin.”

The former army officer, who took part in the Battle of Debaltseve in 2015, sees no let up in fighting over the winter, arguing that Ukraine’s army will seek to press home its advantages against a demoralised and poorly led Russian army.

He said: “I think that the most realistic scenario is that Ukraine will not stop its push, its active counteroffensive till spring.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces are already warmed-up, motivated, and have the best morale and good supplies after the battlefield successes in September.

“Therefore, even winter won’t slow Ukrainians down.”

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Moreover, he pointed out that Ukraine’s army has experience of winter combat from the 2014 conflict and that frozen land makes it easier for heavy armour to move around.

Mr Kovalenko predicted that after the recapture of Kherson the focus of the military campaign will switch back to the east, with the liberation of the Donbas the next major objective over the coming six months.

His remarks come as the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine said on Tuesday that a “difficult situation” had emerged in the Kherson region.

General Sergei Surovikin told Russian media that he endorsed plans by the region’s occupation authorities to evacuate civilians.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said in its Thursday bulletin that the general’s comments indicated that Russia is seriously considering “a major withdrawal” of its forces from the “area west of the Dnipro River”.

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