Update on the Ukraine-Russia War

From a story on axios.com by Dave Lawler headlined “Ukraine launches counteroffensive to retake Russian-occupied Kherson”:

Ukrainian forces have launched a much-anticipated counteroffensive in the south of the country, including around Kherson, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command announced on Monday.

Driving the news: The announcement followed reports of Ukrainian artillery strikes on Russian positions in Kherson Oblast, and unconfirmed claims from Ukrainian officials that Russia’s “first line of defense” near Kherson had been breached.

The latest: Two senior U.S. officials told CNN’s Jim Scuitto that Ukraine is targeting Russian weapons systems, command and control centers and ammunition depots in preparation for advances in southern Ukraine.

  • Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted, “Kherson is [Ukraine]. Our Kherson is ahead.”
  • The launch of the offensive comes as inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head to Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine for an urgent examination of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which has been damaged by shelling.

The backstory: Russia took large swaths of southern Ukraine in the opening days of the war, advancing north from occupied Crimea. Even as Russian forces were repulsed from Kyiv and bogged down in the east, they solidified their hold on Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.

  • In Kherson, Russia installed a puppet government, restricted the internet, mandated the use of the ruble and started issuing Russian passports. The White House has warned that Russia could announce a sham referendum there in the coming days as a precursor to annexing the territory into Russia.
  • Meanwhile, Russia has redeployed thousands of troops from the east — where a Russian offensive has stalled — to defend against the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south.
  • Ukraine has been using longer-range rocket systems provided by the U.S. to strike Russian ammunition depots. Meanwhile, a series of unexplained explosions on Russian military facilities in Crimea — a critical hub for Moscow’s operations in the south — have hinted at Ukraine’s ability to strike far behind the front lines.

Between the lines: The flow of U.S.-made weaponry, including much-needed artillery ammunition, has strengthened Ukraine’s position.

  • But both Ukraine and Russia have taken heavy losses over four months of brutal fighting in the East, and analysts have debated whether Ukraine has the manpower and materiel to conduct a major offensive.

What to watch: The Economist and others have cautioned that the threat of annexation and the need to shift the battlefield momentum could push Kyiv to move too soon.

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