Ukraine war: Russian frontline ‘collapses’ near Kherson

Russia’s frontline has collapsed in the south of Ukraine with dozens of towns liberated in a matter of hours, according to sources on both sides of the conflict.

Kyiv said its troops are ‘confidently advancing to the sea’ as videos showed the city of Davydiv Brid under their control along with a clutch of smaller settlements in the surrounding countryside.

Meanwhile pro-Russian military bloggers said their forces had retreated around 10 miles down the Dnipro River as the entire northern end of their territory west of the river fell into Ukrainian hands.

It comes just days after Putin declared the Kherson region – along with three others – to be part of Russia, vowing they would belong to Moscow ‘forever’. 

Ukrainian troops are pictured fighting in Kherson, in the south, with a heavy machinegun mounted on the top of a buggy which is being used to attack a Russian position

Ukrainian troops are pictured fighting in Kherson, in the south, with a heavy machinegun mounted on the top of a buggy which is being used to attack a Russian position

A Ukrainian soldier fires an anti-tank launcher from the top of an armoured car as they break through Russian lines to the north of Kherson

A Ukrainian soldier fires an anti-tank launcher from the top of an armoured car as they break through Russian lines to the north of Kherson

The northern end of the Russian frontline in Kherson has reportedly collapsed, with dozens of villages being retaken by the Ukrainians

The northern end of the Russian frontline in Kherson has reportedly collapsed, with dozens of villages being retaken by the Ukrainians

A BM-21 'Grad' multiple rocket launcher fires at Russian positions in Kharkiv region on October 4, 2022

A BM-21 ‘Grad’ multiple rocket launcher fires at Russian positions in Kharkiv region on October 4, 2022

Recruits carry ammunition during a military training at a firing range in the Rostov-on-Don region of Russia on Tuesday

Recruits carry ammunition during a military training at a firing range in the Rostov-on-Don region of Russia on Tuesday

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to fire a BM-21 'Grad' multiple rocket launcher towards Russian positions in Kharkiv region on October 4, 2022

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to fire a BM-21 ‘Grad’ multiple rocket launcher towards Russian positions in Kharkiv region on October 4, 2022

Kyiv said its troops are 'confidently advancing to the sea' as videos showed the city of Davydiv Brid under their control along with a clutch of smaller settlements in the surrounding countryside. A Ukrainian soldier prepares to fire a BM-21 'Grad' multiple rocket launcher towards Russian positions in Kharkiv region on October 4, 2022

Kyiv said its troops are ‘confidently advancing to the sea’ as videos showed the city of Davydiv Brid under their control along with a clutch of smaller settlements in the surrounding countryside. A Ukrainian soldier prepares to fire a BM-21 ‘Grad’ multiple rocket launcher towards Russian positions in Kharkiv region on October 4, 2022

Illia Ponomarenko, a respected journalist for the Kyiv Independent, tweeted: ‘Good lord, Russian front is apparently collapsing in the south. 

‘I just can’t keep up with reports on newly-liberated towns coming every other hour.’

Ukraine has been attacking in Kherson since early August after launching a much-vaunted counter-offensive to recapture the city – the only regional capital to have fallen to Putin’s troops during the seven-month war.

Until now the offensive had only made slow advances, taking territory in a few areas while being pushed back in others.

However, it now appears Russian troops – who are cut off from their main supply lines after Ukraine blew up the bridges across the Dnipro River with HIMARS – can no longer hold the line.

And news of Russian defeats in the region are significant, because Putin has based the majority of his best soldiers there – up to 30,000 of them, by some accounts.

Should Moscow’s armies retreat from Kherson, then questions will be raised over whether they can continue to hold any of the territory they have taken in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s offensive in the north – to the east of the city of Kharkiv – is continuing, with troops capturing two small settlements on the east bank of the Oskil River.

The territory is located just over seven miles from the border of Luhansk oblast, another of the regions that Putin annexed last week.

Ukrainian forces appear to be mopping up unoccupied towns in the region in preparation for an attack on the city of Svatove, in Luhansk.

Davydiv Brid

Starosillya

Ukrainian solders are seen liberating the city of Davydiv Brid (left) and the nearby town of Starosillya (right), including one wearing a British flag but speaking in Ukrainian

Novopetrivka

Novopetrivka

Ukrainian soldiers are greeted by weeping locals in the town of Novopetrivka, in Kherson, as they recapture territory from the Russians

That then opens the door for a thrust into Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, two major cities that Russia spent weeks capturing and which underpin its claim to be in control of the entire region.

Over the weekend, Russian troops pulled back from Lyman, a strategic eastern city that the Russians had used as a key logistics and transport hub, to avoid being encircled by Ukrainian forces. 

The city’s liberation gave Ukraine a key vantage point for pressing its offensive deeper into Russian-held territories.

Two days later, an Associated Press team reporting from the town saw at least 18 bodies of Russian soldiers still on the ground.

The Ukrainian military appeared to have collected the bodies of their comrades after fierce battles for control of Lyman, but didn’t immediately remove those of the Russians.

‘We fight for our land, for our children, so that our people can live better, but all this comes at a very high price,’ said a Ukrainian soldier who goes by ‘Rud’.

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevhen Perebyinis called for the deployment of more weapons to Ukraine following the partial mobilization announcement by Russia last month.

In a video address to a conference in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Russia’s war against Ukraine on Tuesday, Perebyinis said the additional weapons wouldn’t lead to an escalation but instead would help to end the war sooner.

‘We need additional long-range artillery and ammunition, combat aircraft and armed vehicles to continue the liberation of occupied territory,’ the deputy minister said. 

Vladimir Putin declared Kherson – along with Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia – to be part of Russia last week, vowing to keep them ‘forever’

Russia's invasion has largely stalled and has now gone into reverse as Ukraine recaptures swathes of territory in both the north and south

Russia’s invasion has largely stalled and has now gone into reverse as Ukraine recaptures swathes of territory in both the north and south

‘We need anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence systems to secure our civilians and critical infrastructure from the terrorist attacks on the Russian forces.’

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday the military has recruited more than 200,000 reservists as part of a partial mobilization launched two weeks ago. 

He said that the recruits were undergoing training at 80 firing ranges before being deployed to the front lines in Ukraine.

Putin’s mobilization order said that up to 300,000 reservists were to be called, but held the door open for a bigger call-up. 

It sparked protests in many areas across Russia and drove tens of thousands of men to flee Russia in a challenge to the Kremlin.

The Ukrainian successes in the east and the south came even as Russia moved to absorb four Ukrainian regions amid the fighting there.

The upper house of Russian parliament, the Federation Council, voted Tuesday to ratify treaties to make the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions part of Russia. The lower house did it on Monday.

Putin is expected to quickly endorse the annexation treaties. Russia’s moves to incorporate the Ukrainian regions have been done so hastily that even the exact borders of the territories being absorbed were unclear.

In his speech to announce the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions on Friday, Putin vowed to use ‘all the means at our disposal ‘ to defend the newly-stolen territory. 

He also claimed that the United States had ‘created a precedent’ by dropping atomic bombs in World War II. 

Russia maintains around 6,000 nukes, of which 2,000 are 'tactical' that can be deployed on the battlefield via ships, planes or short range missile. Pictured: An intercontinental ballistic missile being launched from an air field during military drills

Russia maintains around 6,000 nukes, of which 2,000 are ‘tactical’ that can be deployed on the battlefield via ships, planes or short range missile. Pictured: An intercontinental ballistic missile being launched from an air field during military drills

The Vladimir Monomakh, operational since 2015, is a Russin ballistic missile submarine armed with the nuclear-capable Bulava missile

The Vladimir Monomakh, operational since 2015, is a Russin ballistic missile submarine armed with the nuclear-capable Bulava missile

Russia’s massive stockpile of nuclear weapons is the last credible threat Putin has in his struggle with the West, now that his once-vaunted army is proving to be inferior to the Ukrainian army and Europe is so far standing firm against his gas hostage diplomacy. 

A chorus of callous cheerleaders, both on Russian state TV and among ultra-nationalist allies, such as Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov and former president Dmitri Medvedev, egg their leader on to break the nuclear taboo.

There have even been reports that NATO is anticipating a nuke to be detonated on Ukraine’s borders, in a demonstration of Putin’s resolve.

In response, the White House has warned of ‘catastrophic consequences for Russia’ if Putin does the unthinkable and presses the launch button.

For now, analysts cautiously suggest that the risk of Putin using the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal still seems low. The CIA says it hasn’t seen signs of an imminent Russian nuclear attack. 

But the dictator, who turns 70 on Friday and long-rumoured to be suffering from ill health, will be desperate to get out of the corner he has backed himself into.

The Russian nuclear stockpile, the largest in the world, consists of ‘tactical’, lower-yield bombs, and strategic weapons that can annihilate entire cities and population centres.

Russian tactical nukes, with a yield of between ten and 100 kilotons, are designed for use on the battlefield in contested territory.

By way of example, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 was approximately 18 kilotons. 

The use of strategic nuclear weapons is the ultimate deterrent. If ever used, retaliation would be inevitable and the world would be looking at nuclear Armageddon. Putin is unlikely to launch these.

The threshold for using tactical nuclear weapons is lower, however, and Russia has nearly 2,000, with a variety of ways to deliver them at their chosen targets. 

Putin could choose to launch one from Kalibr cruise missiles fired from a ship in the Black Sea or a jet over Russian territory. Or he could launch a land-based short-range Iskander ballistic missile.

Putin could aim to detonate one of these as a ‘warning shot’, either in the miles in the air, over the open sea or under it – away from the battlefield and with no loss of life. 

This would be intended as a demonstration of capability and conviction, to cow the US and NATO into backing down.

Russia has a slightly larger nuclear weapon stockpile than the USA, and it is Putin's last card, now that his army has been proven ineffective and Europe is standing firm against his gas supply blackmail

Russia has a slightly larger nuclear weapon stockpile than the USA, and it is Putin’s last card, now that his army has been proven ineffective and Europe is standing firm against his gas supply blackmail

Russian tactical nuclear weapons have a yield of between 10 and 100 kilotons, creating a heavy blast damage radius of between less than one mile to three miles

Russian tactical nuclear weapons have a yield of between 10 and 100 kilotons, creating a heavy blast damage radius of between less than one mile to three miles

Russian corvette Gremyashchiy fires a missile - which can be adapted to fire tactical nukes - in the Baltic Sea in December, 2020

Russian corvette Gremyashchiy fires a missile – which can be adapted to fire tactical nukes – in the Baltic Sea in December, 2020

A Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber fires a cruise missile at test targets, during a military drills. Putin could use such a delivery system to fire a nuke at targets in Ukraine

A Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber fires a cruise missile at test targets, during a military drills. Putin could use such a delivery system to fire a nuke at targets in Ukraine

It would not be cost-free, however, as the electromagnetic pulse would fry all circuitry within a certain radius, while the fall out and radioactive dust would render the blast zone and surrounding areas an extreme bio-hazard. 

The nuclear cloud could also blow west over NATO countries, something that former CIA director David Petraeus and be could perhaps be construed as an attack on a NATO member. 

A senior defence source said a demonstration could come in the Black Sea, which would be more likely than using a tactical nuke in Ukraine, according to The Times.

But if Putin chose to do so, he would face a significant risk. ‘They could misfire and accidentally hit a Russian city close to the Ukrainian border such as Belgorod,’ the source said.

The successful use of a tactical nuke would trigger an ‘escalation ladder.’ NATO would be required to either give in to Kremlin demands or risk further nuclear attacks that could spiral out of control.

But if NATO stood firm, the move would likely backfire on Putin. It would gain him no other tactical advantage and would risk alienating support among aghast allies such as China and India. 

It also might not send the signal that he intended, as it would fail to conclusively prove that Putin was not actually bluffing, as he has previously boasted. 

Therefore, Putin might consider that, in order to signal to the West that he means business, his only option would be to drop a nuke on Ukrainian positions – either military, civilian or infrastructure. 

It would be ‘one of the biggest decisions in the history of Earth,’ according to Andrey Baklitskiy, a senior researcher at the UN’s Institute for Disarmament Research, who specialises in nuclear risk.

Analysts guess that even Putin may find it difficult to become the first world leader since US President Harry Truman to rain down nuclear fire.

Putin deposed, Russia broken up, and NATO in a face-off with China: As Ukraine sees a path toward victory and a desperate Vladimir hits the panic button, expert argues THIS is how the war could end 

Land grabs, hundreds of thousand of conscripts thrown on to the front lines, and a nuke for anyone who dares stand in his way: Vladimir Putin has spent the past week doubling down on his war in Ukraine.

But his bluster belies a simple fact: Russia is losing the war, and he knows it.

The despot is desperate. His army is in tatters, his battleplans shot, he’s burning through his cash reserves at an unsustainable rate, and winter is looming. Meanwhile Ukraine’s army continues to advance across the country, giving Kyiv a viable path to victory. Which begs the question: What happens if Russia is beaten?

According to Alp Sevimlisoy – millennium fellow at think-tank Atlantic Council, who spoke to MailOnline – that would mean Putin being deposed, Russia itself breaking apart, and NATO in a face-off with China over the spoils. 

The West must begin preparing for that eventuality now, he adds, otherwise it will open the door for Beijing to muscle into regions such as Siberia, central Asia, Africa and South America where it already has toe-holds but will see opportunities as Russian power fades. 

‘We have to move into vacuums, seek to exert influence, and then we have to face up to the People’s Republic of China. China is a globally-connected superpower, and we have to combat them effectively,’ he said.

Ukrainian troops, having routed Russian troops to the east of Kharkiv last month, are continuing to push east - taking the city of Lyman at the weekend and pushing into Luhansk oblast in the last 24 hours

Ukrainian troops, having routed Russian troops to the east of Kharkiv last month, are continuing to push east – taking the city of Lyman at the weekend and pushing into Luhansk oblast in the last 24 hours

Ukraine is also making gains in the south, breaking through Russian defensive lines on the Dnipro River and pushing towards the city itself from the west, threatening Putin's forces with a major retreat

Ukraine is also making gains in the south, breaking through Russian defensive lines on the Dnipro River and pushing towards the city itself from the west, threatening Putin’s forces with a major retreat

Putin has tried to stem the rot by annexing regions, conscripting hundreds of thousands of soldiers and threatening nuclear war - but an expert has told MailOnline he faces being deposed with NATO ended up in a face-off with China

Putin has tried to stem the rot by annexing regions, conscripting hundreds of thousands of soldiers and threatening nuclear war – but an expert has told MailOnline he faces being deposed with NATO ended up in a face-off with China

Back in February, when Putin first launched his ‘special military operation’, such as scenario was barely thinkable.

The West may have been rooting hard for Ukraine, but few thought victory was possible – they were outnumbered, outgunned, and hemmed in from three sides by the full force of the Russian military, then estimated to be second only to the US. It may take days, or weeks, perhaps months, but few doubted Kyiv would eventually fall.

But then followed a series of spectacular miscalculations by Putin and his generals. Poor preparation and planning, corruption that had rotted Russia’s military stockpiles from the inside out, and poor morale among the troops combined to hand Ukraine the initiative – which its commanders exploited ruthlessly.

Alp Sevimlisoy, a fellow with the Atlantic Council think tank, believes Putin would not survive defeat - and that Russia itself may begin to crumble

Alp Sevimlisoy, a fellow with the Atlantic Council think tank, believes Putin would not survive defeat – and that Russia itself may begin to crumble

The lightning advance on Kyiv that Putin had banked on to topple the regime and hand him control of the country within a matter of days slowed, then stopped, and finally culminated in a ‘goodwill gesture’ – aka a full-scale retreat – as the Kremlin instead set its sights on ‘liberating’ the Donbas.

Despite the wide open lands of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland being infinitely more-suited to Russian tactics – devastating artillery bombardments followed by slow troop and tank advances – problems persisted. Again, the advance slowed, and then largely stopped.

Ukraine then delivered a devastating one-two punch: An assault on Kherson in the south which sucked in Russian troops, before a hook east out of Kharkiv broke Russian lines, precipitated a full-scale rout, and handed thousands of square miles back to Kyiv’s control in a matter of days.

Russia has been left reeling. Its military may not be flat on the canvas yet, but a heavy blow has been landed and its knees have begun to buckle. A few more, and a knockout is on the cards.

Speaking just after Ukraine launched its Kharkiv counter-attack, Mr Sevimlisoy told MailOnline: ‘The Ukrainians have the momentum – they are winning. But this conflict won’t just end with both sides going away and saying ‘that’s that’, it will reverberate throughout Russia and the region.’

That would mean Russian power fading not just from the likes of South America and Africa – where it has previously sent mercenaries, handed out loans and built infrastructure – but also from ex-Soviet satellite states such as Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Armenia, he believes.

And Russia itself could succumb to in-fighting, with rebellious regions seeking to break away from Moscow’s control as power-brokers within the Kremlin turn on one-another and vie for Putin’s throne.

Though the prospect of a Putin-free Russia may once have seemed the stuff of fantasy, Mr Sevimlisoy believes there is almost no way for him to survive defeat in Ukraine.

‘I can’t see a future for Putin [if he loses the war],’ Mr Sevimlisoy said. ‘How do you go back to your people after this? After you’ve weaponized food and energy, how do you go back to the world stage after that?’ 

A Russian rocket slams into a Ukrainian special forces Humvee somewhere in Ukraine as Kyiv's offensive in the south continues. According to reports on Telegram, all troops survived the encounter

A Russian rocket slams into a Ukrainian special forces Humvee somewhere in Ukraine as Kyiv’s offensive in the south continues. According to reports on Telegram, all troops survived the encounter

Ukrainian special forces troops are pictured advancing across the south of Ukraine amid reports of a breakthrough in Russian lines that may have pushed Putin's men back more than 10 miles

Ukrainian special forces troops are pictured advancing across the south of Ukraine amid reports of a breakthrough in Russian lines that may have pushed Putin’s men back more than 10 miles

Ukrainian tanks

Ukrainian tanks

Ukrainian tanks open fire on Russian positions in Kherson, amid a major offensive in the region that aims to recapture the city from Russia – which would be a major blow to Putin’s invasion

Ukrainian troops are filmed ambushing Russian armoured vehicles using anti-tank launchers in Donetsk, leaving at least one of them destroyed

Ukrainian troops are filmed ambushing Russian armoured vehicles using anti-tank launchers in Donetsk, leaving at least one of them destroyed

The wreck of a Russian Tigr armoured vehicle is abandoned on a forest road (bottom centre) in Donetsk as others fleet (top) following a Ukrainian ambush

The wreck of a Russian Tigr armoured vehicle is abandoned on a forest road (bottom centre) in Donetsk as others fleet (top) following a Ukrainian ambush

He’s not alone in thinking so. In the weeks since Ukraine’s counter-attack, experts have openly questioned whether Putin is facing the end – Professor Grigory Yudin predicted so to Canada’s CBC, ex-British army officer Richard Kemp mulled the idea in The Telegraph, and it was also debated by Foreign Affairs magazine.

Mr Sevimlisoy believes Putin’s ouster would fire the starting pistol on all manner of in-fighting within Russia: Different branches of the military turning on one-another, regions bidding to break away from the country, and ex-Soviet satellite states looking for allies many miles away from Moscow.

‘Russia’s failure in Ukraine is failure of statecraft,’ he said. ‘There will be groups saying “this isn’t how we should be governed”. The military will say the campaign has been a failure.

‘I think collapse will come from infighting in the intelligence services and military, and forces within Russia will see to use this as opportunity to say: “We can govern ourselves better and we have enough international support to push for independence.” We should definitely support that.’

But there is no guarantee that whoever replaces Putin will be any less extreme. Many believe the heir-apparent to be Sergey Naryshkin, head of the foreign intelligence service, who is considerably more-hawkish than Putin when it comes to the West.

That means NATO’s mission will be to ‘contain Russia and the Russian armed forces’, Mr Sevimlisoy argues, but also ‘we’d be working to contain China.’

Russian power would wane over ex-Soviet satellite states such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – and even further abroad, in Africa and South America where Putin has been propping up dictatorial regimes with mercenaries, cheap loans and trade deals.

NATO must be ready to compete in all those arenas, or else risk losing them to Beijing’s sway. 

There are already signs that the rot is setting in. Kazakhstan, long an ally of Moscow, has been taking an increasingly defiant tone against Moscow – welcoming in more than 100,000 Russian men who had fled Putin’s draft while also insisting that territorial integrity must be respected, though without directly mentioning Ukraine.

Azerbaijan and Armenia – another ally of Moscow – resumed fighting a few weeks ago as Moscow tried to shore up its western flank against the Ukrainians, with Armenia forced to acknowledge that Putin was not going to help defend its territory, despite the two being in a security pact.

And other nations that until now have given tacit support to Russia are beginning to voice concerns. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking at the UN a few days ago, urged Moscow not to let the Ukraine war ‘spill over’ and to ‘protect the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries.’

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having initially tried to tread a careful middle ground on Ukraine, delivered an even bolder rebuke – telling the Kremlin: ‘Today’s era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you about this.’ 

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also spoke out to say that he had talked with Putin at a recent summit in Uzbekistan, and believes ‘he wants to end this as soon as possible’ because ‘the way things are going right now are quite problematic’.

Destroyed Russian tanks in a vehicle graveyard in Izium, which was recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces in a lightning offensive that routed Putin's troops and placed Ukraine firmly on the front foot

Destroyed Russian tanks in a vehicle graveyard in Izium, which was recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces in a lightning offensive that routed Putin’s troops and placed Ukraine firmly on the front foot

Russian reservists that have been conscripted into the army to fight in Ukraine fire a machine-gun on a training range somewhere in the Rostov region before being sent to the frontlines

Russian reservists that have been conscripted into the army to fight in Ukraine fire a machine-gun on a training range somewhere in the Rostov region before being sent to the frontlines

A Russian reservist, called up as part of Putin's mobilisation order, practices firing a heavy machine-gun at a range in the Rostov region before being deployed into combat

A Russian reservist, called up as part of Putin’s mobilisation order, practices firing a heavy machine-gun at a range in the Rostov region before being deployed into combat

Destroyed Russian armored vehicles left behind by Putin's army after they fled the city of Izium, in Kharkiv oblast

Destroyed Russian armored vehicles left behind by Putin’s army after they fled the city of Izium, in Kharkiv oblast

And Erdogan’s position could be key to ending the war, Mr Sevimlisoy believes, because it would be Turkey together with Ukraine that would be key to containing the Kremlin after defeat.

‘Russia will have to come to terms with the fact that it is no longer a world power, but a state – a Black Sea state whose system nobody seeks to imitate,’ he said. ‘And what we’re going to see and are seeing now is that the  domination of this region will be up to Turkey.’

Equipped with the latest-generation US fighter jets and hypersonic missiles, Mr Sevimlisoy believes that Turkey – alongside a Ukrainian military adept at fighting Russia – will be the key to Western influence in the region and further beyond into central Asia.

This is necessary, he says, because it will put NATO and the West in a strong position to compete with Beijing.

‘In any region where Russian influence wanes, we have to make sure we have to create regional partnerships, to have permanent presences,’ he said. 

‘We have to move into vacuums, seek to exert influence, and then we have to face up to the People’s Republic of China. China is globally connected superpower, and we have to combat them effectively.

‘We have far more military experience within NATO than the Chinese do, and that is to our advantage, but we have to put boots on ground in these places, to ensure that when the time comes to stand up to them – and that time will come – we’re not playing catch-up.’

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