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Putin: Ukrainian counteroffensive has begun

Russian president says Ukraine has had ‘significant losses’

By JAMEY KEATEN and JOANNA KOZLOWSKA, Associated Press
Published: June 9, 2023, 6:34pm

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted Friday that Ukrainian troops have started a long-expected counteroffensive and were suffering “significant” losses. His comments came just hours after a string of drone strikes inside Russian territory.

It was Putin’s latest effort to shape the gut-wrenching narrative of the invasion he ordered more than 15 months ago, sparking widespread international condemnation and reviving Cold War-style tensions.

The conflict entered a complex new phase this week with the rupture of a Dnieper River dam that sent floodwaters gushing through a large swath of the front in southern Ukraine. Tens of thousands of civilians already facing the misery of regular shelling fled for higher ground on both sides of the swollen and sprawling waterway.

Kyiv has played down talk of a counteroffensive, reasoning that the less said about its military moves the better. Speaking after he visited flood zones on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was in touch with Ukrainian forces “in all the hottest areas” and praised an unspecified “result” from their efforts.

Putin said Russian forces have the upper hand.

“We can clearly say the offensive has started, as indicated by the Ukrainian army’s use of strategic reserves,” Putin told reporters in Sochi, where he was meeting with heads of other states in the Eurasian Economic Union. “But the Ukrainian troops haven’t achieved their stated tasks in a single area of fighting.”

Kyiv has not specified whether reservists have been mobilized to the front, but its Western allies have poured firepower, defensive systems, and other military assets and advice into Ukraine.

“We are seeing that the Ukrainian regime’s troops are suffering significant losses,” Putin said, without providing details. “It’s known that the offensive side suffers losses of 3 to 1 — it’s sort of classic — but in this case, the losses significantly exceed that classic level.”

On Friday, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Russia was on the defensive in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia province, though the epicenter of fighting remained in the east, particularly in the Donetsk region. She described “heavy battles” in Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marinka.

Valerii Shershen, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s armed forces in Zaporizhzhia, told Radio Liberty that they were searching for weaknesses in Russia’s defense, which Moscow was trying to strengthen by deploying mines, constructing fortifications and regrouping.

Earlier, regional authorities in southwest Russia near the Ukrainian border reported the latest flurry of drone strikes. The strikes have exposed the vulnerabilities of Moscow’s air defense systems.

In Ukraine, the governor of the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin, said Friday that water levels had decreased by about 8 inches overnight on the western bank of the Dnieper, which was inundated starting Tuesday after the breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam upstream.

Officials on both sides indicated that about 20 people have died in the flooding.

Kyiv accused Russia of blowing up the dam and its hydropower plant, which Russian forces controlled, while Moscow said Ukraine bombarded it.

The Norwegian earthquake center NORSAR said Friday that a seismological station in Romania recorded tremors in the vicinity of the dam at 2:54 a.m. Tuesday, around the time Zelenskyy said the breach occurred.

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