In Bakhmut and Kherson, Ukrainian forces advance against Russian fighters

Opinion

Ukrainian forces continued their advance on Russian forces in the southern Kherson region on Tuesday, pushing Russian mercenaries out of Bakmut in eastern Donetsk and capturing a key highway between the cities of Kremina and Svyatov after a fresh push in Luhansk.

In a day of heavy fighting and rapid advances in various battle zones, Ukrainians recaptured captured territory and pushed back Moscow’s troops, seemingly extending President Vladimir Putin’s gains in areas now held by Russia.

Away from the battlefield, the Kremlin continued to push its claims, repeating without evidence, that Kyiv was preparing to use a “dirty bomb,” a device that combines conventional explosives with radioactive material — an allegation rejected by the United States and other Western countries.

U.S. officials say Moscow’s accusations have fueled fears that Russia may be planning a nuclear strike of its own, which could lead to an escalation of the war over its ongoing territorial devastation.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ukrainian nuclear energy operator Energoatom issued a similar warning against the Russian military’s takeover of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Innerhodar. “Energoatom considers that such actions of passengers may indicate that they are preparing a terrorist act using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at the ZNPP site,” the statement said.

Fears of a renewed nuclear attack have added to the grim sense that Putin’s war in Ukraine is becoming more deadly and dangerous as each side tries to reshape the reality on the ground ahead of winter.

As Ukraine scrambles for continued territorial gains, Russia this month launched an unrelenting bombardment of Ukraine’s energy system, using missiles and drones to plunge the country into cold and dark, potentially compensating for losses on the battlefield.

The setbacks in Ukraine’s invasion have led to increased nuclear concerns in Russia, echoing Cold War events such as the lesser-known 1983 nuclear crisis. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

As Ukraine continues its advance, Kremlin military bloggers and analysts on Tuesday confirmed new obstacles for Russian forces in Luhansk, an eastern Ukrainian region that Russia has firmly controlled.

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“Ukrainian forces have launched a counterattack in the direction of Luhansk,” the pro-Russian Wargonzo Project said in its daily military update as Ukrainian forces seized control of a key highway between Luhansk’s Svatov and Kremina.

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“Russian artillery is actively working on the left side of the Zerebets River and is trying to stop the transfer of reinforcements to the enemy, but the situation is very difficult,” Wargonzo said.

In the Donetsk region, Wagner’s paramilitary force, controlled by St. Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, appears to have been pushed out of Bakmut. Military experts say there was little strategic value in capturing Bakhmut, but Prigozhin appears to see an opportunity to reap political rewards while regular Russian military units lose ground in other combat zones.

Ukrainian forces have recaptured a concrete factory on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War reported on Monday. On Sunday, Prigozhin admitted that Wagner’s efforts were slow, saying the recruits were gaining 100-200 yards a day.

“Our units regularly meet with the most powerful enemy resistance, and I noticed that the enemy is well-prepared, motivated, confident and coordinated,” Prigozhin said in a statement published by the press service of the catering company. “This will not stop our fighters from moving forward, but I cannot comment on how long it will take.”

In the southern Kherson region, one of the four Moscow states, the Russian army appears to be preparing to defend the city of Kherson, thereby retreating to the eastern side of the Dnieper River and cutting off critical ground.

Evacuees from the Russian state of Kherson, Ukraine, arrive on buses in Jankoy, Crimea, October 24.

In an operational update Tuesday, the Ukrainian military said Russian troops were establishing “defensive positions” along the east bank of the Dnieper and leaving small passages to exit the west bank.

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Speculation over whether Moscow is preparing to abandon Kherson has been rife for weeks after Ukrainian forces made steady gains in the south.

A famous Russian military blogger said: “I do not know all the nuances and plans of the command, but from a military point of view I do not rule out Kherson’s surrender.” wrote in a Telegram post, writing under the moniker Zapiski Veterana. But I think that if a decision is taken in Moscow to fight until victory, then there is nothing sad about the surrender of Kherson, because this war is for a long time.

Moscow may not have a choice. “The Russian position in the upper Kherson Oblast, however, is unsustainable,” the Institute for the Study of War said.

Kremlin-appointed officials are forcing residents to evacuate Kiev’s west bank of the Dnieper, citing unproven “dirty bomb” allegations of an attack on the Khakovka hydroelectric power station.

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The United States, France and Britain have accused Moscow of using the dirty bomb allegations as a pretext, and have warned Putin’s government of further sanctions in the West.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin called Washington’s distrust of Russia’s claims an “impermissible and absurd approach.”

After a two-week bombing campaign in which Moscow has systematically targeted energy infrastructure, Kyiv is increasingly concerned about civilians enduring a bitter winter. Ukrainian officials have been pressuring European officials for the past few weeks for sophisticated weapons, particularly the advanced air defense systems needed to fend off Russian airstrikes.

The country also faces an urgent financial crisis, with officials raising questions about how Ukraine will find funding to keep services running in the coming weeks and months. A forecast from the World Bank in early October suggested that Ukraine’s economy would shrink by 35 percent this year.

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On Tuesday, Germany and the European Union hosted a conference on reform in Berlin, although the discussion seemed particularly premature with Russian attacks causing new havoc every day.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine needs $38 billion in emergency economic aid for next year alone. But while senior officials regularly tout EU support for Ukraine, there are questions about short- and long-term monitoring.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen As they announced plans to help Ukraine by 2023, EU officials acknowledged a delay in delivering a nearly $9 billion loan to Kiev that was promised earlier this year.

US Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has in recent weeks pressed European counterparts to step up financial support for Kiev and has implicitly questioned the decision to offer loans instead of aid.

“We call on our allies and partners to join us in paying back their commitment to Ukraine faster and doing more,” Yellen said this month.

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“Thank you for the funds allocated earlier,” Zelensky said. But a decision has not yet been made on the remaining $6 billion in this package – which is very important this year.

“It is now in your power to reach an agreement in principle on aid to our state,” he continued.

With current needs unmet, some wonder how seriously the EU’s Marshall Plan equivalent effort will be taken. A question and answer published by Germany’s Group of Seven president ahead of Tuesday’s summit indicated that the event would not include a “commitment section”. Instead, it aims to “resolutely demonstrate the unity of the international community and its support for Ukraine.”

Some EU diplomats have questioned whether the bloc should allocate resources to rebuilding the country, which is still at war, especially given Europe’s energy and economic crises.

Von der Leyen said in Berlin on Tuesday that Brussels’ focus was on efforts to build a common understanding among EU member states on emergency measures.

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