Moscow Announces Troop Pullback From Kharkiv Area After Facing Counterattack

New Delhi: Russia announced Saturday that it was pulling back its troops from two areas in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region after the Ukrainian counteroffensive made significant advances in the past week.

The Defense Ministry’s statement came after days of apparent advances by Ukraine in south of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, the Associated Press reported.

The development comes as Ukraine’s biggest military success since its forces thwarted Moscow’s attempt to seize capital Kyiv, at the start of the nearly seven-month war.

“The Russian army in these days is demonstrating the best that it can do — showing its back,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video released by his office Saturday night, as quoted by AP. “And, of course, it’s a good decision for them to run.”

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Russia’s Attempt To Justify Retreat

As per AP, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov stated that troops would be regrouped from the Balakliya and Izyum areas to the eastern Donetsk region.

Izyum was a major base for Russian troops in the Kharkiv region, and social media videos showed residents of Balakliya joyfully cheering as Ukrainian forces moved in earlier this week.

The Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson said that the retreat was “in order to achieve the stated goals of the special military operation to liberate Donbas,” an eastern area involving two separatist regions that Russia has declared sovereign.

The claim of a withdrawal to concentrate on Donetsk can be seen in line with Russia’s justification when it had to pull back its forces from the Kyiv region as troops failed to take the capital city earlier this year.

Ukraine’s Counter-Offensive

Earlier, Ukrainian officials claimed major gains in the Kharkiv region and said that their troops had cut off vital supplies to Izyum, AP reported.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko hinted that troops had retaken Kupiansk, a town along the main supply route to Izyum,  which was a long focus on the Russian front line and the site of heavy artillery and other fighting.

Nikolenko tweeted a photo showing soldiers in front of what he informed to be a government building in Kupiansk, 73 kilometers (45 miles) north of Izyum.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said that it believed the Ukrainian forces had advanced as much as 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Kharkiv while calling the Russian forces around Izyum “increasingly isolated.”

“Russian forces were likely taken by surprise. The sector was only lightly held and Ukrainian units have captured or surrounded several towns,” the British military said, as quoted by AP. It predicted that the loss of Kupiansk would greatly affect Russian supply lines.

Officials in Kyiv have been tight-lipped about the plans for a counteroffensive for weeks and had urged residents to refrain from sharing information on social media.

President Zelenskyy Friday said that troops had reclaimed more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region since the start of Kyiv’s counteroffensive.

However, despite Ukraine’s gains, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of NATO warned Friday that the conflict would likely drag on for months.

As per the U.S. Secretary of State, the conflict was entering a critical period. He urged Ukraine’s Western allies to keep up their support through a likely difficult winter.