A surprise Ukrainian counteroffensive over the weekend appears to have caught Russia on its back foot — and could have consequences for Russian President Vladimir Putin both in the war and at home.
In just days, Ukrainian forces liberated more than 150,000 people and 3,100 square miles of territory in the country’s Kharkiv region from Russian occupation, according to . Ukraine’s push forced Russian troops to quickly abandon key supply hubs and military equipment. on social media shows some residents emerging from their homes and embracing Ukrainian soldiers. Russian forces have responded with strikes on critical infrastructure, but it’s unclear whether they will be able to regain their footing in the region.
As Washington Post Russia reporter Mary Ilyushina tells Today, Explained’s Sean Rameswaram, Ukrainian troops overcame an exhausted and disorganized Russian army with the help of Western intelligence and weapons.While it’s too early to say whether this breakthrough represents a turning point in the war, it does appear that it’s made some of Putin’s supporters skeptical of whether his “special operation” is actually winnable. Some have advocated for a more aggressive Russian response, even pushing for general mobilization and the use of weapons bought from North Korea. As Ilyushina says, the typically “unanimous choir of pro-Kremlin and state propagandist voices” was in disarray.
Today, Explained spoke to Ilyushina to understand those different responses, what they tell us about the political factors weighing on Putin, and how that all might affect his response to the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Below is an excerpt of the conversation, edited for length and clarity. There’s much more in the full podcast, so listen to Today, Explained wherever you get podcasts, including , , , and .