Ukrainian offensive signals potential turning point in war with Russia

After six months of conflict, Ukrainian troops reclaimed strategically significant territory held by Russians since the early days of the war.

By Glorie MartinezSeptember 13, 2022 5:25 pm,

Over the weekend, Ukrainian troops drove Russian forces out of much of the country’s northeastern region of Kharkiv. The territory surrounding Ukraine’s second-largest city had been controlled by Russia since last winter, in the early days of the war.

The offensive boosted the morale of Ukrainians, who have endured more than six months of heavy conflict. Many are hopeful that this represents a turning point in the war. But some analysts caution that the conflict between the two countries isn’t likely to end anytime soon. 

Sergiy Kudelia, an associate professor of political science at Baylor University, hails from Ukraine and served as an advisor to the country’s deputy prime minister from 2008 through 2009. He joined Texas Standard to discuss the implications of Ukraine’s territorial gains.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity. 

Texas Standard: Can you tell us about the portion of the country that Ukrainian military forces have retaken recently? 

Sergiy Kudelia: This is the northern region of Kharkiv Oblast, right on the border with the Russian Federation. The significance of this portion is that it is right next to the second-largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv, which has been shelled by the Russian military since February. So, the fact that the Ukrainians pushed the Russians out of this area is a major change in terms of the ability of the civilians in this city to live a normal life. 

The second important thing about this territory is that it is next to the Donbas region. It’s next to Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. The takeover of the entire region of Donbas was one of the goals of the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. The fact that the Ukrainians managed to push the Russians out of the Kharkiv area makes it much harder for the Russians to capture the rest of Donetsk. 

What made this successful push by the Ukrainians possible?

One factor is the determination and the commitment of the Ukrainians. Another important factor is cooperation with western military officials, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, who provided very valuable intelligence and advanced weaponry. Prior to the counteroffensive, Ukrainians spent about a week undergoing extensive artillery shelling of Russian positions. That put the Russians on the defensive. 

Another factor is that the Ukrainian counteroffensive happened in two parts at the same time – in the south and in the north. It required the Russians to concentrate their most capable military units on the southern part of Ukraine, because they value access to Crimea. That created an opening for the Ukrainian troops to move into the northern regions that were occupied by the Russians. 

How has this offensive affected public opinion in Russia, and what consequences may it have for the future of the war? 

The impact has been tremendous. It’s clear even from the public discussions on Russian television. Before, there was a cheerful attitude about how quickly and how effectively the Russian troops could defeat the Ukrainians. There were no criticisms of Putin or military leadership. 

But over the last several days on major Russian state television, we’ve seen statements coming out from different commentators questioning the strategy of the military command. Since these doubts are being communicated publicly to the Russian people, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are also going to see a shift in the Russian public opinion that for quite some time supported the Russian invasion, believing that there would be a quick victory on the Russian side. 

Now, victory is far away from Russia. They’re facing a humiliating defeat in this war. It is very likely that the Russians would actually prefer a complete withdrawal of the Russian troops and a quick end to this military invasion. 

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