How the Ukraine war went catastrophically wrong for Putin in the last 10 days
Ukraine launched a huge counteroffensive against Russia last week and now claims to have recaptured 8,000 sq km of land in September alone.
Here, Yahoo News UK breaks down - in 12 bitesize chunks - what has happened, why, and where it has left Russian president Vladimir Putin.
What was happening before the counteroffensive: A sense of drift, with Ukraine making little progress after Russia had previously seized swathes of land in the north-east, east and south of the country. Amid Europe’s cost-of-living crisis, first lady Olena Zelenska felt compelled to remind Britons that as they "count pennies", Ukrainians "count casualties".
Lightning strike: Ukraine then launched a stunning counteroffensive in the north-eastern Kharkiv region on 6 September, resulting in thousands of Ukrainians being freed from Russian control over the following days. Military analyst John Spencer, from the Modern War Institute, said it was the greatest counteroffensive since the Second World War. So, how did this play out?
7 September: This is when Ukraine began to regain settlements in the Kharkiv region, with president Volodymyr Zelensky announcing “good news” to Ukrainians in his nightly video address. It was partly made possible by a highly-publicised "decoy" offensive in the south in late August, leading Russia to redeploy forces. Ukraine later said this was a “special disinformation operation” to enable the eastern attack.
9 September: Ukrainian forces continued to make rapid advances in the Kharkiv region, with Zelensky announcing 30 settlements had been reclaimed, as well as more than 1,000 sq km of land overall. Even Vitaly Ganchev, the Russia-appointed head of Kharkiv, conceded a "significant victory" for Ukraine.
11 September: The stunning advance continued, with Ukraine claiming to have tripled its gains to 3,000 sq km of land in the space of two days. Amid the Ukrainian joy at the regained territory, however, were dark stories of torture and killings during the months of Russian occupation.
What Russia said: It presented a massive withdrawal of its troops as a “regroup”. The UK’s Ministry of Defence, on the other hand, posted an intelligence update stating “the already limited trust deployed troops have in Russia’s senior military leadership is likely to deteriorate further”.
Swift retribution: Russia launched attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure in response to the counteroffensive, with millions of people reportedly hit by power cuts in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions. Zelensky labelled it a “terrorist act” with Russia causing "cold, hunger, darkness and thirst”.
“A most difficult week”: Russia’s previously belligerent state media awkwardly tried to grapple with the changing narrative. The sheer scale of Ukraine’s advance meant presenters were forced to acknowledge Russia’s losses, though Rossiya-24 carried claims - without evidence - that “Western mercenaries” bolstered Ukraine’s ranks. Presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said on a primetime show on 11 September: "A most difficult week on the front.”
Pressure on Putin: The Moscow Times, an independent Russian media outlet, reported dozens of deputies in Moscow and St Petersburg had called on Putin to resign amid discontent about the war, as well as claims of vote rigging in regional elections. An open letter published on 12 September read: “President Putin's actions are detrimental to the future of Russia and its citizens.”
What’s next for Russia in the war? With Ukraine now saying it has retaken more than 8,000 sq km of territory, how Russia responds is up in the air. The Institute for the Study of War said Russia “has almost certainly drained a large proportion of the forces originally stationed” since the invasion in February. But Russia has ruled out a full nationwide mobilisation of troops to bolster its forces.
What’s next for the West? With Russia and Putin severely wounded, there have been warnings of nuclear retaliation. John Bolton, the former US national security advisor, said on 12 September the threat of nuclear conflict is “a lot closer” than before. He warned the losses in Ukraine could lead to Putin “lashing out” to “try and re-establish some aspect of a position of strength".
What’s next for Putin? The war, of course, is not over. Russia still controls about 20% of Ukraine. But Putin has been humbled and bruised. He admitted at a summit on Thursday that China, Russia’s major ally, had "questions and concern" about the war, and even felt compelled to “explain our position”. A U-turn, however, still seems highly unlikely.