One of the many excuses Vladimir Putin has given for invading the country next door is that Ukraine and Russia are “one nation”, which should be united under his benign rule. “Do you still think that?” asked Ukraine’s president, as his troops swept thousands of Russian invaders from Kharkiv province this week. Volodymyr Zelensky’s triumphant sarcasm was justified. The Kharkiv counter-offensive, which began on September 5th, marks the most dramatic Russian reversal since Mr Putin abandoned his effort to seize Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, at the end of March.
Its significance is not just the liberation of 6,000 square kilometres of territory in a few days—more than Russia had gained in the previous five months. Nor is it Ukraine’s seizure of the tanks, guns and boxes of ammunition that the Russian soldiers left behind as they fled in disorder. Ukraine has also recaptured two transport hubs, Izyum and Kupyansk, which Russia needs if it is to complete its conquest of the Donbas region and integrate it into Russia. Mr Putin’s plans to stage phoney “referendums” on annexing occupied parts of southern and eastern Ukraine are now on hold, as Ukraine counter-attacks in both areas. Predictions in war are always risky, but the tide seems to have turned. Russia’s occupation is everywhere held in check, and Ukraine is gradually—and sometimes suddenly—rolling it back.