Ukraine goes on the counteroffensive as Russians fall back

Ukraine moved on the counteroffensive during week 11 of Russia’s war, taking back towns to the north and east of the second-largest city Kharkiv.

According to some news reports, Russian forces retreated to regroup around defensive positions less than 10km (6 miles) from the Russian border, with Ukrainian units in hot pursuit.

“This Ukrainian operation is developing into a successful, broader counteroffensive – as opposed to the more localized counterattacks that Ukrainian forces have conducted throughout the war to secure key terrain and disrupt Russian offensive operations,” said the Institute for the Study of War.

“Ukrainian forces are notably retaking territory along a broad arc around Kharkiv rather than focusing on a narrow thrust, indicating an ability to launch larger-scale offensive operations than we have observed so far in the war.”

Reflecting increased confidence, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the first time outlined strict conditions on May 6 to enter peace talks with Russia, including a withdrawal of Russian forces to pre-February 24 borders, the return of nearly six million refugees, membership in the European Union, and accountability for those Russians who committed war crimes.

These remarks were a far cry from those Zelenskyy made on April 10. “No one wants to negotiate with a person or people who tortured this nation,” Zelenskyy said. But “we don’t want to lose opportunities, if we have them, for a diplomatic solution”.

Elsewhere, the war seemed to have reached an impasse; nowhere did Russia score a significant advance.

In Zaporizhzhia, in the country’s south, locals reported a Russian unit shot up 20 of its vehicles to avoid combat duty.

‘Escalatory trajectory’

The unexpected difficulty of seizing Ukraine has raised questions about how long Russia will commit lives and money. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin’s only military ally, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, has said, “I feel like this operation has dragged on.”

United States Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a Congressional committee that Putin “is preparing for a prolonged conflict … moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory”.

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