Igor Girkin, a former commander of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, said on Saturday that Ukrainian troops had “already won” the war against Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of the Eastern European country on February 24 and was met with a strong defense effort from Ukraine, which was bolstered by military aid from its allies. Despite the vastness of the Russian army, Moscow failed to achieve any major goals. Ukrainian forces have launched counter-offensives in recent days in Kherson and the Kharkiv region in a bid to retake territory.
On Saturday, Ukrainian troops made significant gains near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, forcing Russia to withdraw from key towns like Izium and Kupyansk, according to Radio Free Europe.
Girkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, has long been seen as an anti-Ukrainian hardliner. However, he acknowledged Ukraine’s victory in a Telegram post on Saturday.
He wrote that Russia suffered a ‘major defeat’ in Kharkiv amid reports that Russian troops had fled Kupyansk, which has served as a major rail and logistics hub for the Kremlin since the city was captured in February . Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Saturday that Ukraine’s recapture of the city would deal a “significant blow” to Russia.
In his message, Girkin added that because Ukraine has “already won”, Russia should now focus on preserving its troops.
“Now, in fact, our side can only talk about how to stop its deepening and prevent the escalation of an operational defeat into a strategic defeat,” he wrote. “Although in general it has already become too large. “The battle for the initiative” the enemy has already won. Now we should talk about preventing the Armed Forces of Ukraine from encircling and destroying large formations of our troops.”
The Ukrainian victories at Kupyansk and Izium come just a day after Girkin said Russian troops had only one or two days to launch counterattacks against Ukraine at Izium or face defeat.
“The question of the timing of the counterattack is very acute: if the enemy manages to gain a foothold in the positions reached, pull up artillery and air defense, then it will be extremely difficult for our units to repel him .. .. if at all (given extremely weak personnel, especially infantry) Maybe,” he wrote in a Friday Telegram post.
On Saturday morning, Russian forces also withdrew from Izium, according to DPR Russian First Deputy Information Minister Danylo Bezsonov, who described the situation as “bad”.
British defense officials said the Kharkiv counteroffensive likely took Russia by surprise. After launching the counteroffensive on Tuesday, Ukrainian forces advanced more than 30 miles into territory previously held by Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech late Friday that Ukrainian forces “liberated and took control of more than 30 settlements” in the Kharkiv region.
Newsweek contacted the Russian Ministry of Defense for comments.