In Bakhmut and Kherson, Ukrainian forces advance against Russian fighters

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Ukrainian forces continued their advance against the Russian military in the southern Kherson region on Tuesday, pushed back Russian mercenaries from Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk, and gained new momentum in Luhansk, where they captured a key highway between the towns of Kreminna and Svatove.

On a day of heavy fighting and rapid advances across multiple combat zones, the Ukrainians appeared to extend their recent successes in retaking occupied territories and pushing Moscow’s troops back in areas that President Vladimir Putin has now claimed belongs to Russia.

Away from the battlefield, the Kremlin continued to push an allegation, which it repeatedly asserted without evidence, that Kyiv was preparing to use a “dirty bomb,” a weapon that combines conventional explosives with radioactive material – a charge dismissed by the United States and other western nations.

US officials said Moscow’s claims raised the risk that Russia itself was planning to launch a radiation attack, possibly as a pretext to justify further escalation of the war amid its ongoing territorial difficulties.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator Energoatom issued a similar warning, citing Russian military control of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar. “Energoatom assumes that such actions by the occupiers could indicate that they are preparing a terrorist act using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at the ZNPP site,” the statement said.

New fears of some kind of radiation attack added to the ominous sense that Putin’s war in Ukraine is growing even more deadly and dangerous as each side tries to reshape facts on the ground before winter.

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

Obstacles in its invasion of Ukraine have led to more nuclear threats from Russia, echoing Cold War events such as the 1983 nuclear crisis that is not known. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

As Ukraine continues to make gains, pro-Kremlin military bloggers and analysts confirmed new setbacks for Russian forces on Tuesday, including in Luhansk, Ukraine’s easternmost occupied region, where Russia has held I confirm.

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“The Ukrainian army has resumed its counteroffensive towards Luhansk,” the pro-Russian WarGonzo project said in its daily military update, adding that Ukrainian forces had taken control of a key highway between the towns of Luhansk, Svatove and Kreminna.

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“Russian artillery is actively working on the left bank of the Zherebets river and trying to prevent the transfer of reinforcements to the enemy but the situation is very difficult,” said WarGonzo.

In the Donetsk region, Wagner’s paramilitary force, controlled by St Petersburg businessman Yevgeniy Prigozhin, appeared to be pushed back from Bakhmut, where the mercenaries had spent weeks pummeling the city but makes small gains. Military experts said there was little strategic value in capturing Bakhmut, but Prigozhin appears to see an opportunity to claim a political prize, while regular Russian military units are losing ground in other combat zones.

Ukrainian forces have recaptured a concrete factory on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut, the Institute for the Study of War in Washington reported on Monday. On Sunday, Prigozhin acknowledged the slowness of Wagner’s effort, saying the mercenaries were gaining only “100-200 meters a day.”

“Our units are constantly meeting the fiercest enemy resistance, and I note that the enemy is well prepared, highly motivated, and working confidently and harmoniously,” Prigozhin said in a statement published by the press service of his catering company. “This is not stopping our fighters from moving forward, but I cannot comment on how long it will take.”

In the southern region of Kherson, one of the four 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 east side of the Dnieper River, ceding ground essential.

Displaced residents from Russian-occupied Kherson, Ukraine, arrive by bus in Dzhankoi, Crimea, on October 24. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Reuters/Reuters)

The Ukrainian military said in its operational update on Tuesday that Russian troops were setting up “defensive positions” along the eastern bank of the Dnieper and leaving small stretches for a possible retreat from the western bank.

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

“I don’t know all the nuances and plans of the command, but I do not exclude the surrender of Kherson because from a military point of view its defense at the moment could turn into a rout,” a popular Russian military blogger, who writes under the moniker Zapiski Veterana, he wrote in a Telegram post. “But I think that if a decision was made in Moscow to fight until victory, then there is nothing tragic about giving up Kherson because the war has been here for a long time.”

Moscow may not have a choice. “However, the Russian position in upper Kherson Oblast is likely to be untenable,” the Institute for the Study of War said.

Kremlin-installed officials have been forcing residents to evacuate from the west bank of the Dnieper while claiming without evidence that Kyiv is preparing attacks on the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station, as well as the “dirty bomb” allegations.

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

On Tuesday, the Kremlin called Washington’s distrust of Russia’s claims an “impermissible and frivolous approach.”

After a two-week bombing campaign, in which Moscow systematically targeted energy infrastructure, Kyiv is increasingly worried about civilians enduring a bitter winter. Ukrainian officials have spent the past few weeks pressing European officials for more sophisticated weapons, particularly the advanced air defense systems needed to fend off Russian airstrikes.

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 brutal weeks and months ahead. An early projection in October by the World Bank suggested that Ukraine’s economy will shrink by 35 percent this year.

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On Tuesday, Germany and the European Union held a conference in Berlin on reconstruction, although the conversation seems particularly premature given the Russian attacks that are producing new destruction every day.

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

Even as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has hinted at plans to help Ukraine through 2023, for example, EU officials acknowledge delays in delivering to Kyiv the roughly $9 billion in loans promised in earlier this year.

US Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen pressed European counterparts in recent weeks to increase financial aid to Kyiv and has indirectly questioned the decision to offer loans rather than grants.

“We are calling on our partners and allies to join us by quickly delivering on their current commitments to Ukraine and by stepping up to do more,” Yellen said this month. In a video address to the European Council summit in Brussels last week, Zelensky called out European leaders for failing to provide much-needed economic aid quickly enough.

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“Thank you for the money that has already been allocated,” Zelensky said. “But a decision has not yet been made on the remaining $6 billion of this package – which is urgently needed this year.”

“It is in your power,” he continued, “to reach an agreement in principle on providing this aid to our state today already.”

With current needs unmet, some are wondering how seriously to take the EU’s promises of an effort of Marshall Plan proportions. A question and answer published by Germany’s Group of Seven presidency ahead of Tuesday’s conference noted that the event would not include a “pledge segment.” Instead, the purpose is to “underline that the international community is united and firm in its support for Ukraine.”

In private conversations, some EU diplomats raised questions about whether the bloc should be allocating resources for rebuilding a country still largely at war, especially given Europe’s own energy and economic crises.

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

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