Moscow celebrated the annexation of huge swathes of Eastern Ukraine Friday but President Vladimir Putin’s party was wrecked by a lightning counter-attack that may have trapped thousands of his men in a key city supposedly now part of Russia.
“This is the will of millions of people,” Putin said at a glitzy ceremony in front of high-ranking Russian diplomats still in the country. “People living in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region are becoming our compatriots forever.”
But as he gloated, Ukrainian sources claimed that the strategic city of Lyman, which has served as a Russian military hub in Donetsk, has been encircled and supply lines cut. “Lyman! The operation to encircle the Russian group is at the stage of completion,” said Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko on Friday. The claim could not be independently verified but, if confirmed, it would be one of the most serious Russian military losses of the war so far.
Pro-Kremlin forces have conceded that the Ukrainians have made major gains in the region and are close to cutting off the Russian staging post in northern Donetsk, which has been under Russian control since July. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky tweeted that Russian forces would have to “ask for an exit from Lyman” if they want to surrender, adding, “Only if, of course, those in the Kremlin are concerned for their soldiers.”
Ukraine said earlier in the week they had made deep gains in the stronghold region and were close to taking back the territory—despite Putin’s claims that the region now belonged to an enlarged Russia.
Speaking after Putin’s formally announced that four enclaves partially controlled by Russia would be subsumed into the country against all international law, Zelensky vowed to win them back.
“The entire territory of our country will be liberated from this enemy—the enemy not only of Ukraine, but also of life itself, humanity, law and truth,” he said.
The latest military humiliation for Moscow will continue to raise speculation that Putin could decide to lash out in new, more brutal ways.
Russian state television political editor Maxim Yusin warned that Putin intended to push the button on a nuclear attack in the “coming days or weeks,” adding that people should “have fun because it would be a shame to live out the remaining time with pessimism.”
Military analysts say the recapture of Lyman could bolster morale and push the Ukrainian military to move to Luhansk province, which is the heart of the industrial region of the Donbas. Putin planned to annex Donbas after the bogus ballot referendum, which Western intelligence sources say was mostly held at gunpoint.
Ukraine’s military outlined a large-scale counter attack. “If Lyman falls, our forces can… cut the main supply corridor to Russian troops in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk [in Luhansk],” Ukraine’s military General Staff said on Telegram.
The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) said the gains came at the same time as a monumental supply issue for the Russians. “Medical provision for Russian combat troops in Ukraine is probably growing worse,” the MoD said Friday in its weekly war assessment bulletin. “Some newly mobilized Russian reservists have been ordered to source their own combat first aid supplies, with the advice that female sanitary products are a cost-effective solution.”
Among the other issues appears to be theft, with some new soldiers using zip ties to secure tourniquet supplies, rather than the standard Velcro attachments, which make them easier to steal. “This is almost certain to hamper or render impossible the timely application of tourniquet care in the case of catastrophic bleeding on the battlefield,” the MoD statement claims. “Russian troops’ lack of confidence in sufficient medical provision is almost certainly contributing to a declining state of morale and a lack of willingness to undertake offensive operations in many units in Ukraine.”
The British military also suggests that more Russians have escaped across the border than actually fought in the war so far after a mandatory draft was instated. “The better off and well educated are over-represented among those attempting to leave Russia,” they said. “When combined with those reservists who are being mobilized, the domestic economic impact of reduced availability of labor and the acceleration of ‘brain drain’ is likely to become increasingly significant.”
Meanwhile in Moscow, plans for an annexation ceremony continue for Friday.