(NewsGlobal.com)- Late last month, the long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive to retake the southern city of Kherson finally started.
Many, however, were alarmed by the relatively cautious pace at which Ukrainian forces were moving forward and noted that by making it so clear that a counter-offensive was being planned in Kherson, Kyiv had given the Russian Army more than a month to move some of its most elite remaining units and significant numbers of supporting reserve units to block it.
On Wednesday of last week, a second Ukrainian unit launched a smaller-scale but significantly more mobile counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region to the north, demonstrating the genius of this tactic.
The Ukrainian armored and mechanized brigades advanced quickly over the following two days and nights, deep into Russian-occupied territory, after initially bursting past the Russian frontlines at the town of Balakliya.
The spearhead units isolated and then bypassed the limited Russian reserve forces that tried to halt them at the small village of Sevchenkove, reaching the southern edge of the crucial junction city of Kup’yansk on Friday morning as the Ukrainian commanders hurriedly rushed reinforcements in to consolidate and widen the narrow corridor of liberated towns.
The crucial highway and railroad links between Russia and the fortified stronghold of Izyum all passed through Kup’yansk at this point, meaning that an entire flank of the Russian line was suddenly cut off from reinforcement, resupply, or orderly retreat. As a result, panic set in among the Russian units stationed throughout the occupied Kharkiv Oblast.
As the initial breakthrough force moved down the Ozkil river to complete the encirclement, Ukrainian forces stationed south of Izyum in Donbas launched an offensive northward in response to the unexpectedly speedy success of their spearheads at Kup’yansk.
The highly entrenched Russian forces in Izyum abandoned their heavy equipment and artillery and fled on foot and in stolen civilian vehicles through the last few tiny roads to the east as the major highways and railway were cut off and total encirclement loomed.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it was “regrouping” all of its forces in Kharkiv Oblast to the Donbas or back to Russia just days after beginning its northern counteroffensive.
Russia has suffered its worst military defeat since the Second World War, and Vladimir Putin has no viable choice but to defend Kherson Oblast. Russia’s northern flank is now crumbling, and he cannot simply pull back his elite forces without running the risk of suffering a catastrophic defeat. The collapse of the Kherson front would be a political and military catastrophe for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He could declare war and begin a complete mobilization, but even that might result in usable formations too late to stave off an offensive by the Ukrainians in the spring.