Less than two months ago, Putin declared four occupied regions of Ukraine as part of Russia. Some speculated that Moscow would view any attempt to liberate those territories as equivalent to an attack on Russian soil. Yet today Volodymyr Zelensky visited the recently liberated Kherson, awarded Ukrainian soldiers and watched them raise the country’s flag. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on Zelensky’s visit to Kherson and reiterated that it was ‘Russian territory’.
Zelensky did what Putin couldn’t manage to do in eight months of Russian control over the city – he faced its residents. Asked where Ukrainian forces might advance next, Zelensky said: ‘Not Moscow… We’re not interested in the territories of another country.’ Ukraine is now working to restore the water and electricity supply in the city. The army is also hunting Russian soldiers, who changed into civilian clothes after they were abandoned on the right bank of the Dnipro river. Kyiv has made no comments about the number of captured Russian troops.
Ukrainians are counting their trophies – abandoned Russian artillery systems, as well as armoured vehicles and tanks. Now, these weapons can be used for the fight for Donbas, as Putin has moved his army from Kherson to support the eastern offensive. The city of Bakhmut remains a Russian target as it sits on the main road leading to the Ukrainian-held cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. While Russia has struggled elsewhere, its forces have progressed around Bakhmut. After the humiliating retreat from Kherson, Putin is now being forced to lower his expectations, trying to cut off at least Luhansk and Donetsk from Ukraine.
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