Ukraine’s forces have made rapid advancement into the northeastern part of the country over the last four days after an extraordinary collapse of Russian forces that had held the Kharkiv region for months. Troops from Kyiv are close to taking control of the strategically important town of Izyum, days after they overran Russian forces in the key railway town of Kupyansk – thereby seizing charge of two pivotal logistics bases that Moscow used for about six months to mount its defence of the Donbas region. Moscow has been largely quiet, with senior politicians refusing to comment on the military setback, and Russia’s defence ministry insisting that troops fell back for strategic reasons to better safeguard its interests in the “liberated” Donbas regions. But other reports, including claims by the Ukrainian military and its western advisers, suggest that morale in the Russian army is low and at several important points, soldiers abandoned their posts after finding themselves suddenly outflanked.
The world has been here before. In the spring of this year, Russian forces were beaten back from Kyiv in a surprisingly fierce offensive, raising hope that it would be enough to bring both sides to the negotiating table. But under intense global scrutiny, the talks fell apart and the fighting only got intense, even as it faded from the front pages of newspapers. The recent gains on the battlefield would have provided a much-needed fillip to Ukrainian morale but with the prospect of a long and bitter winter ahead (where the support of Kyiv’s western allies will need to remain as strong despite a likely energy crunch) and Russia’s deeply entrenched military positions in the Donbas region, further fighting can only come at a tremendous human cost. World powers, therefore, would do well to take this moment and convince both sides, especially Moscow, to come back to the negotiating table.
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