Zelensky visits liberated Iseum as Ukraine aims to keep Russia on the run

ISYUM, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a daring visit on Wednesday to the recently liberated city of Izyum in the eastern Kharkiv region, where he participated in a flag-raising ceremony marking the country’s most significant military victory since the Russian invaders were repelled from the war. suburbs of Kyiv in late March.

Zelensky said, in a firm tone, that while Russia might temporarily occupy parts of Ukraine, “it is certainly impossible to occupy our people, the Ukrainian people.”

“The heroes are here,” he said, describing the significance of the blue and yellow national flag. “This means that the enemy has gone ran away.”

The remarkably rapid and successful counterattack that liberated Izyum and towns and villages throughout the Kharkiv region proved to be a decisive military and psychological victory, raising national morale, strengthening international support for Ukraine and prompting calls for additional arms and equipment, hoping to capitalize on what appeared to be a turning point in the war that It lasted about seven months.

Western military and intelligence analysts say Russian forces appear to be severely depleted, largely incapable of offensive operations to retake territory, and potentially vulnerable to further attacks. The Ukrainian army, in turn, appears intent on pressing its counterattack in the east and south.

Addressing the Ukrainian soldiers, Zelensky said as he stood in front of the destroyed city hall.

“The past few months have been very difficult for you. So I ask you: take care of yourself; you are our most valuable asset,” he said.

The chief’s appearance here was one of his many trips into the combat zone since February. They presented a contrast between the young Ukrainian leader and aging Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called the war a “special military operation” and has not visited his soldiers in the field since the war began.

Zelensky said on Tuesday that Ukraine regained just over 30 square miles during the attacks in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions.

In the hours following the president’s visit Wednesday, the city has remained virtually silent.

Soldiers moved around the bridge, directing vehicles over a pontoon bridge that had been installed to replace one that had been destroyed by Russian forces. Few civilians wandered into the city centre, with the majority of buildings badly damaged by bombing or fires and most shops looted.

The Russian occupying population was described as surrendering without a fight.

Maxim, a 29-year-old resident, who spoke on condition that only his first name be used due to fears of reprisals, said Russian forces had imposed a curfew in the days before Ukrainian forces recaptured the town. “During that time, they left,” he said. “They were just escaping from here.”

Maxim’s wife, Toma, 27, said there was “absolutely no battle” for the city. She said that the Russian forces seemed to know they would lose, and chose to leave as neighboring towns began to fall into the hands of the Ukrainians.

Deaf and isolated, Putin pursues the “goals” of war and refuses to lose

Given reports of such a complete breakdown, Putin is under pressure from pro-war hardliners to take tougher action. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a longtime ally of Putin, called on Wednesday for martial law and mandatory military mobilization, steps the Kremlin has so far ruled out.

Putin has shied away from such steps because it would likely prove politically toxic, by undermining negative Russian public support for the war, particularly in major cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, which suffered very few war casualties.

Kadyrov also said that Russia should use “all kinds of weapons,” referring to the use of nuclear or chemical weapons, claiming that Russia is fighting against NATO, not just against Ukraine, which is now a common assertion by state officials and propagandists.

“If it were up to me, I would declare martial law all over the country and use all kinds of weapons, because today we are at war with the entire NATO bloc,” said the Chechen strongman, adding that he would have mobilized a long time ago “and took every opportunity to end these evil spirits more effectively.” faster.”

Meanwhile, Zelensky’s advisor Mikhailo Podolyak doubled down on his position, saying that Ukraine should liberate the entire Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Parts of those areas have been under Moscow’s control since the Kremlin incited a separatist war in 2014.

“It is time for the final strike against the Evil Empire,” Podolak He said on Twitter. Podolyak also called on the West to supply tanks, armored vehicles, multiple launch missile systems, air defense systems and more drones.

As the Russian military struggles in Ukraine, Moscow’s finances are under similarly intense pressure. Government financial data released on Wednesday showed a significant drop in oil and gas revenues in August due to sanctions and lower energy sales to Europe.

The Russian economy has fluctuated, but not collapsed Under Western punitive measures, the performance was better than expected thanks to higher energy prices and strict state measures to support the ruble and avoid a currency collapse. But revenue figures released by the Finance Ministry in August pointed to a long-term problem, with Moscow gradually losing its most important energy market, Europe, and having to accept discounted prices in Asia.

The Ukrainian attack thwarted Russian annexation plans in Kharkiv

Russia has reduced gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in recent months and finally cut supplies this month, in moves aimed at piling pressure on Europe and raising fears of a harsh winter, as the continent tries to weed out cheap Russian gas. .

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned Russia during Wednesday’s State of the European Union address for “actively manipulating our energy market”.

“They’d rather ignite the gas than deliver it,” von der Leyen said. “This market is no longer functioning,” she added, warning that Europe will face difficult months as a result.

Von der Leyen said the Russian financial sector was “on alert” thanks to the sanctions and that its industry was “in tatters”. She also said Western powers made a historical mistake by ignoring years of warnings about Putin from Poland and the Baltic states. Their leaders, including Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, are again calling on Western allies to quickly send more powerful weapons to Ukraine.

Putin insisted on Monday that “the Western economic blitzkrieg, the offensive they were counting on, has failed, which is already clear to everyone, and to them.” Russia mitigated the impact of the sanctions through social payments to families and pensioners and support for industry.

Ukraine to Germany: They sent armored vehicles to put pressure on Russia

However, Russia’s heavy industry, including the automotive and manufacturing sectors, has been hit hard by Western bans on the transfer of computer chips and other technologies, as many Russian manufacturers rely heavily on imported parts.

Since Ukraine’s stunning progress over the weekend in the Kharkiv region, Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian officials have stepped up calls for military aid from the West. They issued a proposal on Tuesday for security guarantees from a group of Western countries and called for a multi-decade effort involving major arms transfers and industrial investments to bolster Ukraine’s military against Russian aggression.

But the Kremlin’s chief spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that only Putin and the Russian leadership could give Kyiv real security guarantees. Peskov said Ukraine’s call for security guarantees from Western countries proves that it still wants to join NATO. Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO were one of the main reasons Putin mentioned in threatening military action before the invasion.

“Therefore, the main threat to our country remains,” Peskov said.

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