March 2, 2024
An ongoing counteroffensive has reclaimed “more than a thousand square kilometers” from invading Russian forces over the last week, according to an update from Ukraine's president released hours after a visit from Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

An ongoing counteroffensive has reclaimed “more than a thousand square kilometers” from invading Russian forces over the last week, according to an update from Ukraine‘s president released hours after a visit from Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“Within the ongoing defense operations, our heroes have already liberated dozens of settlements,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his latest update. “And today this movement continued, there are new results. In total, more than a thousand square kilometers of our territory have been liberated since September 1.”

Blinken vouched for the “clear and real progress” that Ukrainian forces have made without corroborating the specific amount of land that Zelensky touted. But his arrival evinced the growing optimism in Western circles about Ukraine’s battlefield prospects amid a multipronged operation in both the prized southern region of Kherson and the city of Kharkiv farther north.

“It’s very early, but we’re seeing clear and real progress on the ground, particularly in the area around Kherson but also some interesting developments in the Donbas in the east,” Blinken told reporters in Kyiv. “But again, early days.”

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Ukrainian officials have been clear about their plans for a fall counteroffensive, to the point that friendly observers have worried they might have been too candid about their plans insofar as Russian commanders took the opportunity to reinforce their positions around Kherson. That transparency appears now to have been a gambit to draw Russian forces across the Dnipro River, pin them down, and then attack the area that they had vacated.

“It seems they have outsmarted the Russians, at this phase at least, [by] drawing [the] Russians best troops to Kherson, putting them into a trap, blowing all the bridges [across the] Dnipro,” a senior European official told the Washington Examiner. “So now [the] Russians are in trouble because Ukrainians are advancing close to Kherson … and Russians can’t get any reserves from anywhere.”

Russian forces around Kharkiv also are lacking reinforcements, the official said, because the troops who would have fortified that area are now pinned down on the western side of the Dnipro. “They pulled them from Donbas, and Donbas and Kharkiv oblasts are connected, neighboring, so you cannot bring from Donbas additional [troops] because you just don’t have [them],” the official said.

Ukrainian forces have paid a heavy price for any successes, however, due to the staggering amount of artillery power that Russia has brought to bear in the months since Ukrainian forces repulsed the attack on Kyiv.

“They were just hitting us all the time,” a wounded soldier identified as Oleksandr told the Washington Post in an interview in a Ukrainian hospital. “If we fire three mortars, they fire 20 in return.”

This soldier, who allowed himself to be photographed while recovering from the loss of his left arm, struck an optimistic note about the counteroffensive. “You have to make jokes to keep your spirits up. We can have this outlook because we’re Ukrainians,” he told the Washington Post. “We’re kind if you don’t touch us.”

Blinken brought to Kyiv an announcement of a new raft of weapons worth $675 million, headlined by “additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS)” and as well as “additional High-speed Anti-radiation missiles” — a weapon that has allowed Ukrainian forces to strike at Russian radar systems in the area.

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“The Russians are in many instances throwing everything they have at Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians, and they’re doing it indiscriminately,” Blinken said Thursday. “And if you’re on the receiving end of that, it’s got to be incredibly horrifying. And at the same time, you have very precise weapons that we and others have provided to the Ukrainians that allows them with one shot to do what the Russians may try to do with 15 or 20 shots, so that’s also part of what’s going on.”

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