Ukraine faces ‘tough struggle’ even as Russian forces withdraw, US says

Ukraine still faces “a tough fight” after Russia gave up most of the territory it had taken near Kharkiv, the United States said, after a lightning counteroffensive that forced many retreating troops to leave the country.

A senior military official said on Monday that Russian forces “have largely given up their gains” around Ukraine’s second-largest city and “have withdrawn to the north and east”, adding that “many of these forces have crossed the border with Russia”. Kyiv claims that 6,000 km2 of territory has been “vacated”.

The US official also said reports that troops in Moscow abandoned equipment as they retreated “could be indicative of Russia’s disorganized command and control.”

However, the official warned that the rapid advances of the Ukrainian counteroffensive had not fundamentally changed the short-term outlook on the battlefield, a cautious message also sent by other senior US administration officials.

“It continues to be a tough fight for Ukrainians,” the official said. “Our goal will be to continue to work closely with Ukrainians and the international community to provide them with the support they need as they repel the Russian invaders.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said while Ukrainian forces had made “significant progress” in their counteroffensive, particularly in the northeast, it was “too early to say exactly where it is going”. .

Speaking at a press conference in Mexico City, he said Russia was continuing to invest resources in the war.

“The Russians maintain very large forces in Ukraine, as well as equipment, weapons and ammunition,” Blinken said. “They continue to use it indiscriminately not only against the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but also against civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

Some Western officials have been emboldened by Ukraine’s progress, saying recent advances have strengthened the case for NATO nations and partners to provide it with lethal aid.

A senior US defense official said Washington and its allies were discussing Ukraine’s longer-term needs, such as air defenses, and whether it might be appropriate to donate fighter jets to Kyiv at “medium long-term”. To date, the United States and its allies have refused to do so.

Ukrainian military officials said in recent days they had taken more than 3,000 square kilometers of ground in what has become Moscow’s biggest military setback since it was forced to abandon plans to conquer Kyiv. But late Monday night, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy all but doubled down on those demands as Ukrainian forces continued to advance.

“From the beginning of September until today, our soldiers have already liberated more than 6,000 km2 of Ukrainian territory – in the east and in the south,” he said. “The movement of our troops continues.”

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Officials and analysts predict Ukraine will continue to advance, but warned Russia may be able to reclaim territory, adding they do not expect Kyiv’s progress to continue uninterrupted .

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said of the Ukrainians that it was “clear that they are fighting hard to defend their country and reclaim territory.”

She added that the White House is grateful to Congress “for the bipartisan support that has made it possible to provide Ukraine with unprecedented military, humanitarian assistance.” [and] financial aid”.

Jean-Pierre said the United States and its allies “have been working to meet Ukraine’s demand for what it needs to be successful on the battlefield – and that’s what we will continue to do. “.

The United States has already allocated much of the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that President Joe Biden signed into law in May, a program that was to last until the end of September. The president has asked Congress for about $13 billion more in aid for the country, including lethal aid, and Washington is expected to announce another weapons package in the coming days.

The tentative assessment by U.S. officials came after the Kremlin said it would continue its invasion of Ukraine “until all initially set goals are achieved.”

The Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged that its troops retreated to the Kharkiv region, but authorities avoided calling it a retreat.

On Monday, Ukrainian troops tried to consolidate the gains made since the launch of the offensive east of Kharkiv. In Izyum, a critical logistics hub where thousands of Russian troops had been stationed, Ukrainian soldiers raised the national flag above the central district government building in the main square.

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