In Bakhmut and Kherson, Ukrainian forces advance against Russian fighters

Suspension

Ukrainian forces continued their advance against the Russian army in the southern Kherson region Tuesday, expelling Russian mercenaries from Bakhmut east of Donetsk, and gaining new momentum in Luhansk, where they took control of a major highway between the towns of Kremina and Svatov.

In a day of intense fighting and fast-moving developments across multiple combat zones, the Ukrainians appeared to extend their recent successes in retaking occupied territories and push Moscow’s forces back into areas that President Vladimir Putin claimed now belong to Russia.

Away from the battlefield, the Kremlin has continued to advance its claim, repeatedly asserting without evidence, that Kyiv was preparing to use a “dirty bomb”, a weapon that combines conventional explosives with radioactive materials – an accusation rejected by the United States and other Western countries.

US officials said Moscow’s allegations raise the risk that Russia itself was planning a radioactive attack, possibly as a pretext to justify further escalation of the war amid its ongoing regional setbacks.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ukrainian nuclear power company Energoatom issued a similar warning, citing the Russian military’s takeover of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar. “Energoatom assumes that such actions by the occupiers may indicate that they are preparing an act of terrorism using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at the ZNPP site,” the statement said.

Renewed fears of some kind of radioactive attack have heightened the ominous sense that Putin’s war in Ukraine is growing deadly and dangerous as each side seeks to redraw the facts on the ground before winter.

Ukraine has been pushing hard for more territorial gains, while Russia this month began a relentless bombing campaign against Ukraine’s energy system, using missiles and drones in an apparent attempt to plunge the country into cold and darkness, possibly making up for battlefield losses.

The setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine increased nuclear threats from Russia, echoing Cold War events such as the little-known nuclear crisis of 1983. (Video: Joshua Carroll/Washington Post)

As Ukraine continues to make gains, pro-Kremlin military bloggers and analysts confirmed fresh setbacks for Russian forces on Tuesday, including in Luhansk, the far east of occupied Ukraine, where Russia maintains its tightest grip.

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“The Ukrainian army has resumed its counterattack in the direction of Luhansk,” the pro-Russian WarGonzo project said in its daily military update, adding that Ukrainian forces had taken control of a major highway between the cities of Svatov and Krymina in Luhansk.

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“Russian artillery is actively operating on the left bank of the Zerbets River and is trying to stop the transfer of reinforcements to the enemy, but the situation is very difficult,” War Gonzo said.

In the Donetsk region, the Wagner paramilitary force, controlled by Saint Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, appears to have been driven out of Bakhmut, where mercenaries spent weeks bombing the city but made small gains. Military experts said the capture of Bakhmut has little strategic value, but Prigozhin appears to see an opportunity to claim a political prize, while regular Russian military units lose ground in other combat zones.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War reported Monday that Ukrainian forces have recaptured a concrete plant in the eastern suburbs of Bakhmut. On Sunday, Prigozhin acknowledged the slow pace of Wagner’s efforts, saying the mercenaries are only gaining “100-200 meters a day.”

“Our units are constantly meeting with the most powerful resistance of the enemy, and I note that the enemy is well prepared, motivated, acting confidently and in harmony,” Prigozhin said in a statement published by the press service of his catering company. “That doesn’t stop our fighters from moving forward, but I can’t comment on how long that will take.”

In the southern Kherson region, one of the four countries Moscow claimed to have annexed, Russian forces appeared to be preparing to defend the city of Kherson, amid speculation that they would withdraw to the eastern side of the Dnieper, abandoning crucial ground.

Displaced residents from the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, Ukraine arrive on buses in Dzhenkoy, Crimea, on October 24 (Video: Reuters; Photo: Reuters/Reuters)

Ukraine’s military said in its operational update Tuesday that Russian forces are setting up “defensive positions” along the eastern bank of the Dnieper River and leaving small corridors for a possible withdrawal from the West Bank.

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Speculation about whether Moscow is preparing to abandon Kherson has been circulating for weeks after Ukrainian forces made steady breakthroughs in the southern direction.

“I do not know all the nuances and plans of the leadership, but I do not exclude the surrender of Kherson because from a military point of view its defense at the moment can turn into a defeat,” said a famous Russian military blogger, writing under the nickname Zapiski Veterana, wrote in a Telegram post. “But I think that if a decision was made in Moscow to fight to victory, then there is nothing tragic about the surrender of Kherson because this war has been around for a long time.”

Moscow may not have a choice. “The Russian position in the upper Kherson region, however, is probably untenable,” said the Institute for the Study of War.

Kremlin-appointed officials were forcing residents to evacuate from the western bank of the Dnieper River while claiming without evidence that Kyiv was preparing attacks on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station, as well as “dirty bomb” allegations.

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The United States, France and Britain accused Moscow of using allegations of a dirty bomb as a pretext for escalation, and warned that Putin’s government would face additional punitive measures by the West.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin described Washington’s distrust of Russia’s claims as an “impermissible and absurd approach.”

After a two-week bombing campaign in which Moscow has systematically targeted energy infrastructure, Kyiv is increasingly concerned about civilians suffering from a harsh winter. Ukrainian officials have spent the past few weeks lobbying European officials for more advanced weapons, particularly the advanced air defense systems needed to fend off Russian air attacks.

The country is also facing an urgent cash crunch, with officials raising questions about how Ukraine will secure funding to keep services running through the grueling weeks and months ahead. The World Bank forecast as early as October that the Ukrainian economy will contract by 35 percent this year.

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On Tuesday, Germany and the European Union hosted a conference in Berlin on reconstruction, although the conversation seemed especially premature given Russian attacks that are bringing new devastation every day.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine needs about $38 billion in emergency economic aid for the next year alone. But while senior officials regularly state EU support for Ukraine, there are questions about short- and long-term follow-up.

Even as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announces plans to help Ukraine through 2023, for example, EU officials acknowledge delays in the delivery of nearly $9 billion in loans to Kyiv earlier this year.

US Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yelling at her European counterparts in recent weeks to increase financial assistance to Kyiv, she indirectly questioned the decision to make loans rather than grants.

“We call on our partners and allies to join us in paying their current obligations to Ukraine and quickly do more,” Yellen said this month. In a video address to the European Council summit in Brussels last week, Zelensky called on European leaders for failing to deliver much-needed economic assistance quickly enough.

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“Thank you for the money already allocated,” Zelensky said. “But no decision has yet been made on the remaining $6 billion from this package – which is much needed this year.”

He continued, “It is in your power, to actually reach an agreement in principle on providing this assistance to our state today.”

With current needs not being met, some are questioning how seriously the EU’s promises of efforts of Marshall Plan proportions are taken. A Q&A published by the German G7 presidency ahead of Tuesday’s conference indicated that the event would not include the “pledge part”. Instead, the goal is “to ensure that the international community is united and resolute in its support of Ukraine.”

In private conversations, some EU diplomats raised questions about whether the bloc should allocate resources to rebuilding a country still at war, especially given the energy and economic crises in Europe.

As von der Leyen spoke in Berlin on Tuesday, the focus in Brussels has been largely on efforts to find common ground among EU member states on emergency energy measures.

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