Ukraine used trickery and firepower to blast a devastating hole in Russia’s eastern front line.
The prospect of a Ukrainian counter-offensive against the positions held by the Russians in the south of the country had long been anticipated and raised by both sides.
But the sight of Ukrainian forces in recent days knocking down Russian flags and raising their colors over villages, towns and cities in the eastern region of Kharkiv caught most people off guard, including – it seems – the Russians.
With minimal fanfare, Ukraine’s military has made the biggest gains since Russian troops were forced to abandon plans to capture the capital Kyiv in late March.
His soldiers have – in a lightning advance – recaptured hundreds of square kilometers of territory in the Kharkiv region that were previously under Russian control, including villages, towns and even cities.
The triumphs followed a period of almost complete silence from Ukrainian commanders and political leaders about any military action.
Access to the entire front line has been cut off to all journalists, except those attached to the Ukrainian army or the Ministry of Defense, since the end of August.
This was part of a plan to restrict the flow of information reaching the Russian side and potentially compromising the mission. This decision highlighted the importance of information, or in this case, the withholding of information, in times of war.
Under cover of this media blackout and backed by a flood of increasingly powerful Western weapons, the Ukrainian military carried out their attacks.
The Royal Navy tracks Russian warships
Zelensky calls for the demilitarization of the nuclear power plant
A calculated move exploited Russia’s weakness
The start of the much-heralded counteroffensive against the southern Kherson region was confirmed – with minimal commentary – on August 29.
But nothing was said about what appears to have been a calculated maneuver against Russian forces in the Kharkiv region.
The British Ministry of Defense confirmed on Saturday that Operation Kharkiv had been launched four days earlier.
Moscow had moved thousands of troops to Kherson to reinforce its flank in preparation for the southern offensive. But the commanders appear to have left their lines in Kharkiv dangerously thin – a weakness the Ukrainians appeared to have noticed and exploited.
Images of the Kharkiv offensive have only begun to emerge in the past three days on social media from troops taking part in the operation and from journalists and other commentators who follow Russia’s war in Ukraine closely. .
The operation was going so badly for the Russians that even pro-Russian social media sites began confirming the Ukrainian advances.
As the gains grew, more official comments were made, including by the President of Ukraine.
On Saturday, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, also broke cover.
Subscribe to the Daily podcast onapple podcast, google podcast, Spotify, Loud speaker
He said on video that the small town of Balakliia had been liberated and more would follow. The commander-in-chief cited Kupyansk – a key logistical hub for Russian forces, helping to support troops in the crucial southeast Donbass region – as well as Izyium, a prize of even more strategic importance in the Kharkov region.
Then came an extraordinary announcement from the Russian Defense Ministry, saying that its troops in Balakliia and Izyium were “regrouping” in the Donetsk region, part of Donbass.
A ministry spokesman tried to give the impression that the decision was intended to focus on the stated military objectives of the Russian invasion – the “liberation” of Ukrainian Donbass – as opposed to a hasty retreat.
A similar false explanation was given in March in an attempt to explain Russia’s failure to seize Kyiv in its own blitzkrieg attempt in the first weeks of the war.
The withdrawal from two key positions in the Kharkiv region once again signals that Ukrainian military capacity, the will to fight and the clever use of information to control what is known of the battle have repelled the army much more powerful Russian.
The big question, however, is whether these quick wins can be consolidated and this moment of success can be sustained, so that the reclaimed land rightfully remains in Ukrainian hands.