PRAGUE — Ukrainian forces are showing signs of battlefield successes in two counteroffensives, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, adding that the United States will support Kyiv in its fight against invading Russian troops “as long as it’s needed.”
Austin’s comments in Prague on September 9 came amid mounting evidence that Ukrainian troops have made advances in the southern Kherson region and in districts east and southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy commended the military for its gains in the east, saying in his nightly video address that Ukrainian troops had reclaimed more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region since the start of the counteroffensive there this week.
“We are gradually taking control over more settlements, returning the Ukrainian flag and protection for our people.” Zelenskiy said.
“Our army, intelligence, the Security Service of Ukraine continue active actions in several operational directions. They continue successfully,” he noted.
While Kherson has been the focus of major fighting for a couple weeks now, the push from Kharkiv has unfolded over the past couple days, with what appears to be lightning speed.
“We see success in Kherson now,” Austin told reporters in Prague after meeting with his Czech counterpart, Jana Cernochova.
“We see some success in Kharkiv and so that is very encouraging,” he added.
In his nightly video address on September 8, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy claimed that Ukrainian troops had “liberated dozens of settlements” and reclaimed more than 1,000 square kilometers from Russian forces in the past week.
Ukraine’s General Staff, meanwhile, claimed that troops advanced 50 kilometers east and southeast of Kharkiv in three days.
Austin praised the fighting abilities of Ukrainian troops, saying “we’ve all been impressed by what we’ve seen. Their willingness to stand up to a much larger, much stronger force, and be effective in their efforts. So we’ve been inspired by their courage and their commitment,” he said.
“You’ve heard [U.S.] President [Joe] Biden say, and you’ve heard me say a number of times, that we’re going to support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” he added.
Austin was among about 50 defense ministers who met this week at Ramstein air base in Germany for the fifth meeting of a contact group on the defense of Ukraine.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service that the government in Kyiv was “absolutely satisfied” with the meeting.
The defense ministers discussed defense policy, not politics, and analyzed how the war is going and what weapons Ukraine needs, along with specific plans to supply them, he said.
He added that it was important that the contact group decided that “Ukraine will be provided with all the necessary weapons” and in principle decided not pay attention to statements made by Russia.
Russian officials have said nothing about the situation on either front in Ukraine or about Ukrainian successes, though pro-Russian military bloggers have for days been documenting major movements in battle lines in both places.
But on September 9, the Russian-appointed administrator for Kharkiv occupied regions told Rossia-24 TV that Ukraine had made a “substantial victory” in the eastern region.
“The situation is rather serious now,” Vitaly Ganchev said. “The very fact there was a breach of our defenses is already a substantial victory for the Ukrainian armed forces.”
WATCH; U.S. backing for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion will continue for “as long as it takes,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Prague on September 9. Appearing alongside Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová, Austin commended the progress Ukrainian troops have made recently in both Kherson and Kharkiv.
Just past midday on September 9, a Russian rocket hit the center of Kharkiv, wounding at least 10 people, the regional administrator, Oleh Synehubov, said in a post to Telegram.
The president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said the attacks likely were revenge for Ukrainian success on the battlefield.
“For every success of Ukraine’s armed forces, for every victory, Russians…answer with strikes on innocent people,” Yermak wrote on Telegram, confirming that children were among the wounded.
On September 8, U.S. officials announced another $675 million package in weaponry to Ukraine, along with a $2 billion pledge made the same day for strengthening security across Europe. That brings the total amount of U.S. military supplies sent to Kyiv since the Russian invasion on February 24 to more than $15.2 billion.
If Ukraine’s two counteroffensives turn out to be sustained and significant, they would further fuel doubts about Russian fighting strength and manpower, as well as Russian commanders’ tactics. They would also add questions to the Kremlin’s ultimate goals for the invasion, which have shifted several times over the past seven months.
Earlier this week, President Vladimir Putin showed no indication that Russian authorities were considering scaling back the tempo of fighting or cutting their losses in Ukraine.
“We have not lost anything and will not lose anything,” he said at an economic forum in Vladivostok.
U.S. and Western officials estimate Russia has recorded up to 80,000 casualties since the invasion, with at least one-quarter of that figure killed in battle. The last official death tally from the Russian Defense Ministry was 1,351, as of the end of March.
During a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels on September 9, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared to chide Putin, suggesting he was callously sacrificing Russian lives by prolonging the fight.
“There are a huge number of Russian forces that are in Ukraine and unfortunately, tragically, horrifically, President Putin has demonstrated that he will throw a lot of people into this at huge cost to Russia, at huge cost to its future,” Blinken said.