How the Ukraine war went catastrophically wrong for Putin in the last 10 days

·Freelance news writer, Yahoo UK
·5 min read
SAMARKAND, UZBEKISTAN - SEPTEMBER 15: (RUSSIA OUT)  Russian President Vladimir Putin seen during the Russian-Uzbek signing ceremony at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit on September 15, 2022 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived to Uzbekistan with a two-days visit. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin has been weakened following Ukraine's stunning counteroffensive this month. (Getty Images)

Ukraine launched a huge counteroffensive against Russia last week and now claims to have recaptured 8,000 sq km of land in September alone.

Here, Yahoo News UK breaks down - in 12 bitesize chunks - what has happened, why, and where it has left Russian president Vladimir Putin.

What was happening before the counteroffensive: A sense of drift, with Ukraine making little progress after Russia had previously seized swathes of land in the north-east, east and south of the country. Amid Europe’s cost-of-living crisis, first lady Olena Zelenska felt compelled to remind Britons that as they "count pennies", Ukrainians "count casualties".

Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska is introduced to the assembly at the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, France, September 14, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska sought to keep the spotlight on the war. (Reuters)

Lightning strike: Ukraine then launched a stunning counteroffensive in the north-eastern Kharkiv region on 6 September, resulting in thousands of Ukrainians being freed from Russian control over the following days. Military analyst John Spencer, from the Modern War Institute, said it was the greatest counteroffensive since the Second World War. So, how did this play out?

TOPSHOT - A photograph taken on September 10 , 2022, shows Ukrainian flags placed on statues in a square in Balakliya, Kharkiv region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. - Ukrainian forces said on September 10, 2022 they had entered the town of Kupiansk in eastern Ukraine, dislodging Russian troops from a key logistics hub in a lightning counter-offensive that has seen swathes of territory recaptured. (Photo by Juan BARRETO / AFP) (Photo by JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images)
Ukrainian flags placed on statues in the reclaimed city of Balakliya in the Kharkiv region, following the lightning counteroffensive. (AFP via Getty Images)

7 September: This is when Ukraine began to regain settlements in the Kharkiv region, with president Volodymyr Zelensky announcing “good news” to Ukrainians in his nightly video address. It was partly made possible by a highly-publicised "decoy" offensive in the south in late August, leading Russia to redeploy forces. Ukraine later said this was a “special disinformation operation” to enable the eastern attack.

The counteroffensive as it stood on 7 September.
The counteroffensive as it stood on 7 September.

9 September: Ukrainian forces continued to make rapid advances in the Kharkiv region, with Zelensky announcing 30 settlements had been reclaimed, as well as more than 1,000 sq km of land overall. Even Vitaly Ganchev, the Russia-appointed head of Kharkiv, conceded a "significant victory" for Ukraine.

The counteroffensive as it stood on 9 September.
The counteroffensive as it stood on 9 September.

11 September: The stunning advance continued, with Ukraine claiming to have tripled its gains to 3,000 sq km of land in the space of two days. Amid the Ukrainian joy at the regained territory, however, were dark stories of torture and killings during the months of Russian occupation.

The counteroffensive as it stood on 11 September.
The counteroffensive as it stood on 11 September.

What Russia said: It presented a massive withdrawal of its troops as a “regroup”. The UK’s Ministry of Defence, on the other hand, posted an intelligence update stating “the already limited trust deployed troops have in Russia’s senior military leadership is likely to deteriorate further”.

TOPSHOT - Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on September 7, 2022. (Photo by Sergei BOBYLYOV / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI BOBYLYOV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
The UK said confidence in Vladimir Putin and his military leaders was 'likely to deteriorate further' following the counteroffensive. (AFP via Getty Images)

Swift retribution: Russia launched attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure in response to the counteroffensive, with millions of people reportedly hit by power cuts in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions. Zelensky labelled it a “terrorist act” with Russia causing "cold, hunger, darkness and thirst”.

KHARKIV REGION, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 11, 2022 - Firefighters of the State Emergency Service (DSNS) work to put out the fire which erupted after a Russian missile attack at the energy facility, Kharkiv Region, northeastern Ukraine. On Sunday evening, Russian invaders launched 11 cruise missiles at critical civilian infrastructures. Seven missiles were intercepted by the Ukrainian military. (Photo credit should read Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Firefighters work to put out a fire which erupted after a Russian missile attack at an energy facility in the Kharkiv region on 11 September. (Getty Images)

“A most difficult week”: Russia’s previously belligerent state media awkwardly tried to grapple with the changing narrative. The sheer scale of Ukraine’s advance meant presenters were forced to acknowledge Russia’s losses, though Rossiya-24 carried claims - without evidence - that “Western mercenaries” bolstered Ukraine’s ranks. Presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said on a primetime show on 11 September: "A most difficult week on the front.”

KHARKIV REGION, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 13, 2022 - A destroyed Russian military vehicle is seen by the side of the road leading to Balakliia which was liberated from Russian invaders by the Ukrainian army in the course of the counteroffensive in Kharkiv Region, northeastern Ukraine. (Photo credit should read Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
A destroyed Russian military vehicle near Balakliia, which was liberated by Ukraine. Russia's losses have been an awkward subject for state media. (Getty Images)

Pressure on Putin: The Moscow Times, an independent Russian media outlet, reported dozens of deputies in Moscow and St Petersburg had called on Putin to resign amid discontent about the war, as well as claims of vote rigging in regional elections. An open letter published on 12 September read: “President Putin's actions are detrimental to the future of Russia and its citizens.”

SAMARKAND, UZBEKISTAN - SEPTEMBER 15: (RUSSIA OUT)  Russian President Vladimir Putin seen during the Russian-Uzbek signing ceremony at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit, September 15, 2022 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived to Uzbekistan with a two-days visit. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin is reportedly facing discontent in Russia. (Getty Images)

What’s next for Russia in the war? With Ukraine now saying it has retaken more than 8,000 sq km of territory, how Russia responds is up in the air. The Institute for the Study of War said Russia “has almost certainly drained a large proportion of the forces originally stationed” since the invasion in February. But Russia has ruled out a full nationwide mobilisation of troops to bolster its forces.

IZIUM, KHARKIV, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 14: Ukrainian soldiers patrol at the streets of Izium city after Russian Forces withdrawal as Russia-Ukraine war continues in, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on September 14, 2022. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Ukrainian soldiers patrol the city of Izium on 14 September following the withdrawal of Russian forces. (Getty Images)

What’s next for the West? With Russia and Putin severely wounded, there have been warnings of nuclear retaliation. John Bolton, the former US national security advisor, said on 12 September the threat of nuclear conflict is “a lot closer” than before. He warned the losses in Ukraine could lead to Putin “lashing out” to “try and re-establish some aspect of a position of strength".

What’s next for Putin? The war, of course, is not over. Russia still controls about 20% of Ukraine. But Putin has been humbled and bruised. He admitted at a summit on Thursday that China, Russia’s major ally, had "questions and concern" about the war, and even felt compelled to “explain our position”. A U-turn, however, still seems highly unlikely.

China's President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose with Mongolia's President during their trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on September 15, 2022. (Photo by Alexandr Demyanchuk / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by ALEXANDR DEMYANCHUK/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
China's president Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin during a summit on Thursday. (Getty Images)