Igor Girkin, a former commander of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, said on Saturday that Ukrainian troops “have 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, bolstered by military aid from its allies. Despite the enormous size of Russia’s military, Moscow has failed to achieve any major goals. Ukrainian forces launched counter-offensives in recent days in Kherson and Kharkiv regions in an attempt to take back territory.
On Saturday, Ukrainian troops made significant advances near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city – forcing Russia to withdraw from key cities including Izium and Kupyansk, according to Radio Free Europe.
Girkin, who also goes by 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 of Russian troops fleeing Kupyansk, which has served as a key rail and logistics hub for the Kremlin since capturing the city 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 post, Girkin added that because Ukraine “has already won,” Russia should now focus on maintaining its troops.
“Now our side can actually only talk about how to stop its further deepening and prevent the escalation of an operational defeat into a strategic one,” he wrote. “Although, in general, it has already outgrown. The “battle for the initiative” has already been won by the enemy. Now we should talk about preventing the Armed Forces of Ukraine from encircling and destroying large formations of our troops.”
Ukrainian victories in Kupyansk and Izium come just a day after Girkin said Russian troops had only one or two days to launch a counterattack against Ukraine in 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 reached positions, pull up artillery and air defense, then it will be extremely difficult for our units to throw him back …. if at all (considering the extremely low manning, especially infantry) Maybe,” he wrote in a Friday Telegram post.
On Saturday morning, Russian forces also withdrew from Izium, according to the Russian-deputized First Deputy Minister of Information in the DPR, Danylo Bezsonov, who described the situation as “bad”.
British defense officials said the Kharkiv counteroffensive likely caught 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 during a speech on Friday night that Ukrainian forces “liberated and took control of more than 30 settlements” in the Kharkiv region.
Newsweek contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.