Zelensky said the town of Lyman, which had been used by Russian forces as a major logistics hub in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region since their arrival this spring, had been completely “cleared from Russian occupiers” as of 12 noon local time. said on Twitter.
The president’s statement came a day after Russia’s defense ministry admitted it had been forced to withdraw troops from Lyman “to more advantageous lines”.
The strengthening of Ukrainian control over the city, following other successes these troops have had since launching a major counter-offensive last month, contrasted sharply with Russia’s ongoing moves to officially incorporate Donetsk and three other eastern regions into Russia. following a series of organized referendums there last week, which have labeled Kiev and its Western supporters as illegal and illegitimate.
Zelensky mocked Putin’s attempt to declare Russian authority by fiat over areas now taken back by Ukrainian forces.
“This, you know, is the trend,” he later said in his nightly video speech. “Recently someone held pseudo-referendums somewhere, and when the Ukrainian flag is returned, no one remembers the Russian farce with some scraps of paper and some annexations.”
The continued advance into Russian-occupied territories heightens the stakes of repeated threats made by President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials in recent days, suggesting Moscow could go so far as to take advantage of nuclear weapons to defend territory it considers part of Russia, including the annexed territories of Ukraine.
Putin referred to America’s use of atomic bombs against Japan in 1945 during a fiery speech on Friday in which the Russian leader labeled the annexation of large parts of Ukraine as fulfilling the Russians’ fate.
Ukraine’s supporters in the West, such as leaders in Kiev, have insisted they will not bow to Russian intimidation. On Sunday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned Russia against escalating retaliation against Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
“Again, it’s an illegal claim; it’s an irresponsible statement,” he said in an interview with CNN. “Nuclear saber rattling is not the kind of thing we would expect to hear from leaders of large countries with capacity.”
Austin said he expected Ukrainian troops to continue offensive operations aimed at retaking all Russian-occupied territory, despite Putin’s recent order to mobilize an additional 300,000 troops to bolster the fighting in Ukraine. Ukrainian forces are also trying to penetrate deeper into Russian-controlled areas of southern Ukraine, towards the city of Kherson.
“I don’t think that will stop, and we will continue to support them in their efforts,” he said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described Lyman’s recapture as an example of the progress Ukrainian forces were making “because of their courage and skills, but also, of course, because of the advanced weapons provided by the United States and other allies.”
He noted that countries such as Norway and Germany are increasing their aid to Ukraine. “This makes a difference on the battlefield every day,” he told NBC.
The recent series of battlefield reversals may indicate that the Russian military is reaching a “breaking point,” said HR McMaster, a retired three-star general who served as national security adviser during the Trump administration.
“Where we may be here is really on the brink of the collapse of the Russian military in Ukraine. A moral breakdown,” he told CBS.
But US officials have warned that despite Russia’s failure to achieve the initial goals of Putin’s February 24 invasion, including the capture of Kiev, continued mobilization could still pose a formidable challenge to Ukraine. Even with larger amounts of Western aid, the Ukrainian army is eclipsed in size and weapons by that of Russia.
Leaders of nine eastern and central European countries on Sunday condemned Putin’s annexation, which will be formalized by the Russian parliament on Monday and Tuesday, saying they could not “stay silent in the face of the flagrant violation of international law” .
“We do not recognize and will never recognize Russian attempts to annex Ukrainian territory,” the presidents of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovakia said in a joint statement.
As Russian forces attempted to establish a new line of defense after their retreat from Lyman, a torrent of public recrimination and bickering over who was to blame for Moscow’s recent setbacks on hardline pro-Kremlin Telegram channels.
In an open conflict that underscored the disarray in the Russian ranks, two powerful figures with their own forces fighting against Ukraine carried out devastating attacks on commanders of the Russian Defense Ministry. It started with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s criticism of Russian military commanders on Saturday and his call to deploy tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
Then Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, founder of mercenary group Wagner, added his own blunt attack in rare public comments.
“Kadyrov’s expressive statement is obviously not quite in my style,” he said, according to a Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel. “But I think we should send all these barefoot assholes with machine guns to the front,” he said in a clear reference to top Russian commanders.
Elena Panina, a former lawmaker and director of Russtrat, a pro-Kremlin think tank, called the public attacks on top Russian military figures “unprecedented” before piling up her own criticism, lamenting the lack of harsh military retaliation to punish Ukraine for the forced retreat from Russia.
She called Ukraine’s recapture of Lyman “a direct act of aggression against Russia,” referring to Russia’s illegal attempt to annex the region. Panina said the criticism of the Russian military command came “in the midst of military failures and much to the delight of the enemy.”
But sweeping Russia’s failures under the rug was a path “laden with real disasters,” she said. In what appeared to be a call to fire top military officials, she called for “qualitative personnel changes, of an organizational and operational nature, up to and including emergency measures.”
“By many estimates, Russia is facing an enemy that is more numerous, better armed, better prepared and better motivated,” Panina said, adding that it would take a “superhuman effort” to win.
The pro-Kremlin Telegram news channel Readovka described the public broadcast of allegations as “worse than treason” and called for an end to the public accusations by “hotheads” and “turbo patriots,” in a commentary on its Telegram channel.
Ukraine continued on Sunday to press for the release of an official overseeing its Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which authorities say has been detained by Russia. Fighting in the area around the facility, which is under Russian control but managed by Ukrainian engineers, has raised concerns about a nuclear accident.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he had spoken with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, who told him the IAEA was working on the release of Ihor Murashov, the plant’s director.
“I emphasized that Russia must withdraw troops and military equipment from the station,” Kuleba . said in a tweet.
Morgunov reported from Kiev. Dixon reported from Riga, Lativa.
War in Ukraine: what you need to know
The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed decrees to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following organized referendums widely labeled as illegal. Follow our live updates here.
The answer: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Russia in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascent” into NATO, in a clear response to the annexations.
In Russia: Putin announced a military mobilization on September 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic effort to reverse the setbacks in his war against Ukraine. The announcement sparked an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly conscripted men, and renewed protests and other forms of resistance to the war.
The fight: Ukraine launched a successful counter-offensive that forced a major Russian retreat into the northeastern region of Kharkov in early September as troops fled the towns and villages they had occupied since the war’s early days, leaving behind large amounts of military equipment.
Photos: Photographers for the Washington Post have been on the scene since the beginning of the war – here is some of their most powerful work.
How you can help: Here are ways people in the US can support the Ukrainian people and what people around the world have donated.
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