WASHINGTON: Ukraine appears on course to achieve several of its key battlefield objectives as Kyiv moves to strengthen its military position against Russia ahead of the winter, a senior Pentagon official said on Monday (Oct 3).
The upbeat assessment by Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs, came on the same day that Ukrainian forces achieved their biggest breakthrough in the country's south since the war began.
Ukrainian troops burst across Russian lines and advanced rapidly along the Dnipro River, threatening supply lines for thousands of Russian troops.
Wallander noted the latest efforts under way in the southern region of Kherson as recent successes in Kharkiv and Donetsk.
"Ukraine seems to be on track to achieve in all three of those objectives right now," Wallander told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
The setbacks for Russia have triggered harsh public critiques of the generals running Russia's war, and prompted Moscow to order the partial mobilisation of forces.
A US military official, briefing Pentagon reporters on condition of anonymity, said, however, that Washington - which is arming and advising Ukraine's military - still has not seen a large-scale Russian reinforcement of its troops in Ukraine.
"Broadly speaking, we've seen relatively small numbers (of Russian reinforcements) ... but nothing large-scale at this stage of the game," the official said.
Kyiv gave little information about its latest gains in the south, but Russian sources acknowledged that a Ukrainian tank offensive had advanced dozens of kilometres along the river's west bank, recapturing a number of villages along the way.
"Ukraine's goal is to push back the Russian bridgehead on the western Bank of the Dnipro in Kherson," Wallander explained.
That, she said, would represent "a major defeat for Russia".
"Because it pushes back, even more, Russia's ambition to take Odessa, which was one of the stated objectives earlier this year," Wallander said.
"It becomes that much harder, and it gives Ukraine a much better defensive position to ride out what probably will be a tamping down of the hot fighting over the winter."
The advance in the south mirrors the tactics that have brought Kyiv major gains since the start of September in eastern Ukraine, where its forces swiftly seized territory to gain control of Russian supply lines, cutting off larger Russian forces and forcing them to retreat.
On Friday, Ukraine recaptured Lyman, the main Russian bastion in the north of Donetsk province. That has opened the way for it to advance deep into Luhansk province, threatening the main supply routes to territory Moscow captured in some of the war's bloodiest battles in June and July.
Wallander said Ukraine's capture of Lyman would "significantly affect Russia's ability to supply, resupply and move forces all along that forward line of conflict".