Russia ‘likely to concede area half the size of Wales’ in Ukraine

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A Ukrainian soldier smiles from a military vehicle in the freed territory in the Kharkiv region (Kostiantyn Liberov/AP) (AP)
A Ukrainian soldier smiles from a military vehicle in the freed territory in the Kharkiv region (Kostiantyn Liberov/AP) (AP)

Russia is likely to continue its surprise retreat from swathes of Ukraine until Kyiv’s forces recapture an area nearly half the size of Wales, Western officials believe.

They suspect Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops will not try to seize back the lost land around the Kharkiv area and will instead consolidate their firepower in the south.

The officials also did not deny reports that British and US military officials played a role in advising Ukraine on its counteroffensive, which forced a dramatic withdrawal by the Kremlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s claim that his forces have regained 6,000 square km (more than 2,300 square miles) this month was supported by Western intelligence.

“However, Russian forces are likely in the process of withdrawing from the whole of occupied northern Kharkiv Oblast, an area of up to 10,000 square km or approaching half the size of Wales,” one official added.

Instead, intelligence suggests the Russians will try to consolidate east of the Oskil river to focus on defending the Donbas region, which is high among Mr Putin’s publicly stated objectives.

“I don’t expect them to try and regain (the lost land), they are trying to consolidate their lines. They will be loathe to lose territory which they have stated as their primary objectives, namely the Donbas and the land bridge,” the official said.

They added: “It’s too early to say whether this is a turning point in the war, but it’s a moment that has power in terms of both operations, logistics and psychology.

“In marked contrast to Russia, Ukraine has demonstrated impressive operational art and adherence to the core principles of war.”

In some areas, a “significant quantity” of weapons, vehicles and ammunition were abandoned by Russian troops, some of whom fled in “apparent panic”, the official added.

The New York Times has reported that Ukraine discussed its counteroffensive plans with American and British intelligence officials to gain advice.

Western officials declined to deny the suggestion, and instead stressed that the plans were all Kyiv’s.

“This is a Ukrainian operation, a Ukrainian offensive, and a Ukrainian plan,” one said.

They downplayed the likelihood of Ukraine swiftly seizing back significant new ground.

However, one official added: “They have a habit of surprising us.”