Vladimir Putin is reported to have sacked a top ranking general just 16 days after appointing him following his crushing defeat in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian president is thought have relieved Lieutenant General Roman Berdnikov of his duties over the failure of Kremlin troops to keep hold of vast swathes of Ukrainian territory over the last few days.
A counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces has seen troops push to within 30 miles of the border, amid reports panicked Russian troops have been abandoning tanks, weapons and supplies.
The have been claims from some sources that Russian soldiers have ‘literally run from their positions’, even leaving behind their clothes as they run away from the advancing Ukrainian army in the Kharkiv oblast in the north east of the country.
It comes as Ukrainian soldiers surge into the east of the country in an effort that has seen them take more than 1,000 square miles of territory in a matter of days, in a period of time that could prove to be a turning point in the war.
It came after a sustained Ukrainian ‘disinformation campaign’ about a counter-offensive in the south, which succeeded in diverting Russian troops in that direction and leaving the north east vulnerable to attack.
The main advance in the area began six days ago and has forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to prevent them being surrounded.
Lieutenant General Roman Berdnikov has reportedly been sacked by Vladimir Putin after the rout of his troops in eastern Ukraine
A Ukrainian soldier passes by a Russian tank damaged in a battle in a just freed territory on the road to Balakleya in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine
Abandoned Russian military equipment during the Ukarinian Army counter-offensive in Kharkiv region, amid the Russian military invasion of Ukraine
A counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces has seen troops push to within 30 miles of the border, amid reports panicked Russian troops have been abandoning tanks, weapons and supplies
According to the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Lt General Berdnikov was appointed as commander of the Western Armed Forces on August 26, 2022.
However, it seems his time in charge was short lived, with Ukrainian intelligence saying he has been sacked by Putin due to the rout in Kharkiv. There has been no confirmation from the Kremlin on this.
This came after unconfirmed reports back in June that he had been killed during fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
As Russian troops desperately scrambled to get clear from oncoming forces in recent days, one Ukrainian unit said the chain of command had been broken and Kremlin troops were running away without even attempting to fight back.
The source told the Telegraph that many had changed into civilian clothes to avoid being spotted by Ukrainian troops and have left behind a ‘huge amount of vehicles and ammunition’.
He said: ‘They were really afraid, their chain of command was in chaos. Officers left the area before the fighting began.
‘There were a lot of uniforms lying around. We caught some of these guys trying to escape in civilian clothes, they were telling some incredible bullshit trying to save themselves.’
A Ukrainian flag set up in the town of Balakliya in southeastern Kharkiv oblast after it was retaken by Ukrainian troops yesterday
A Ukrainian soldier gestures shouts ‘Glory to Ukraine’ as a military convoy passes by Husarivka towards eastern Ukraine on Saturday
In an attempt to hit back, Russia last night struck at Ukrainian infrastructure in what president Volodymyr Zelensky said was an attack to ‘deprive people of light and heat’.
Missiles strikes knocked out power and water to much of Kharkiv city, with blackouts in Bnipro, Poltava and other eastern cities potentially affecting millions of people.
This prompted President Zelensky to brand Russia a ‘terrorist state’ and he launched into a fiery speech railing against the Kremlin.
He said: ‘Do you still think we are one people? Do you still think you can scare us, break us, force us to make concessions? Don’t you really get it? Don’t you understand who we are? What we stand for? What we are all about?
‘Read my lips: Without gas or without you? Without you. Without light or without you? Without you. Without water or without you? Without you. Without food or without you? Without you.
‘Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not as frightening and deadly for us as your friendship and brotherhood. But history will put everything in its place. And we will be with gas, light, water and food… and without you!’
In a tweet President Zelensky he added: ‘A total blackout in the Kharkiv & Donetsk regions, a partial one in the Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk & Sumy regions.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky sent a message to Russia after it attacked critical civilian infrastructure last night, saying ‘Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not as frightening and deadly for us as your friendship and brotherhood’
On his official Twitter account, President Zelensky branded Russia a ‘terrorist state’ and that it is attempting to ‘deprive people of light and heat’
‘RF terrorists remain terrorists & attack critical infrastructure. No military facilities, the goal is to deprive people of light & heat. #RussiaIsATerroristState’
Earlier in the day, which is the 200th in the war, president Zelensky mocked the Russian retreat in a video address to the nation, saying that ‘the Russian army in these days is demonstrating the best that it can do – showing its back’.
Yesterday he posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers hoisting the national flag once again over the town of Chkalovske. More crucially, they entered the Russian-held supply towns of Izyum, Kupiansk and Balakliya.
Unusually, the propaganda-led Russian defence ministry confirmed its retreat from these towns, but said its troops were ‘regrouping’ to defend the Donetsk region, where Ukraine will advance towards next.
Ukraine’s military chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said yesterday his forces had liberated about 1,160 square miles since the beginning of September – triple the amount of regained territory claimed by Mr Zelensky just two days previously.
If correct, this is the biggest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted Putin’s attempt to seize Kyiv and other central areas of the country not long after the initial invasion in late February.
After that setback Russia regrouped to concentrate on the Donbas region in the east, but that too is now in the sights of advancing Ukrainian troops.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War said Ukraine had retaken more territory in five days than Russia had since April.
Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said that the Russians have been cut off from vital supply lines and predicted more rapid gains. ‘It will be like an avalanche,’ he said, ‘One line of [Russian] defence will shake, and it will fall.’
Russia still controls around 20 per cent of Ukraine, and military analysts are warning the war will at least continue through the long cold winter.
Mr Zelensky agreed with this forecast, saying at the weekend: ‘Ahead are 90 days that will determine more than 30 years of Ukrainian independence… The winter will determine our future.’
Ukrainian troops load an abandoned Russian military vehicle onto a trailer during their counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region
Ukrainian troops stand in a group, amid Russia’s invasion of the country, at a location given as Hoptivka, Ukraine in this picture obtained from social media and released on September 11
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said the recent gains were only possible thanks to hi-tech weapons supplied by the UK and other western allies, and added that victory is within sight if the support continues.
He added: ‘The more weapons we receive, the faster we will win and the faster this war will end.’
Throughout July and August, Ukraine’s political and military leaders had declared very openly that they would launch a major counter-offensive in the south.
Taras Berezovets, press officer for the Bohun brigade of Ukraine’s special forces, said: ‘It was a big special disinformation operation. The offensive happened where they least expected, and this caused them to panic and flee.’
Lieutenant-General Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya who has supplied thousands of troops for the Russian invasion, said the Kharkiv retreat resulted from leadership blunders.
‘They have made mistakes,’ he said.
‘If they don’t make changes… I will be forced to contact the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground.’
Russian political analyst Sergei Markov criticised Putin’s attendance at Moscow’s 875th ‘birthday’ celebration on Saturday.
‘The fireworks in Moscow on a tragic day of Russia’s military defeat will have extremely serious political consequences,’ he said.