Ukrainian forces surprised Putin’s army with a lightning-fast counteroffensive. Ukraine’s supreme commander shares insight into the counterstrike that turned the tide of the war.

The Ukrainian counter-offensive recorded its greatest successes since the beginning of the war: With a lightning-fast counter-offensive in the north-east and south of the country, they stunned the Russian troops, who then withdrew from large parts of the occupied territories. In less than two weeks, Ukrainian forces are said to have retaken more than 6,000 square kilometers from Russian control and cut off supply routes, according to Time. The victory in Lyman is the latest great success for the Ukrainians.

The Ukrainian commander-in-chief Valeriy Zalushnyi, who was selected to lead the armed forces, tells in an interview with “Time” how Ukraine was able to turn the tide with a clever diversionary maneuver.

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When the Russian invasion began on February 24, the general stated that the primary goal was to protect Kyiv: “And on all other vectors we had to shed their blood, even if we had to lose territory in some places,” says the general “time”.

The ulterior motive: Ukraine wanted to allow the Russians to advance and then destroy their columns at the front and the supply lines.

By the sixth day of the invasion, Zalushny concluded that his strategy was working: Russian forces had failed to capture the airports around Kyiv and had penetrated deep enough to strain the supply lines, leaving them unprotected.

The general was also surprised by Russia’s mistakes: When Russia encountered fierce resistance or could no longer supply itself with supplies, Putin did not change his strategy: “They simply drove their soldiers into the slaughter,” Zalushnyj told Time “Putin’s well-established strategy benefited the Ukrainians at that moment,” said Zalushny.

In the meantime, things had looked bleak for the Ukrainians. When Russia bombed the strategically important port city of Mariupol and mass graves were discovered in the occupied villages, Ukraine nevertheless insisted on victory: “We will fight to the last drop of blood,” says Zalushny.

A few weeks later, Ukraine’s strategy puzzled military analysts: from the top of the government, Ukrainian officials, including Zelensky and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, began publicly touting their preparations for a large-scale operation to retake territory in the south.

Usually, military counter-offensives would not be advertised publicly, so that the enemy could not prepare for the counter-attack. In anticipation of a Ukrainian attack, Russia has begun moving troops to strengthen its position in the south. Some of the best Russian elite units were transferred.

On August 29, the Ukrainian armed forces finally launched the long-awaited offensive in the south. “We are at war, not only in the south,” Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Time on September 1.

Behind the large-scale announcement was an ingenious war strategy: Five days later, Ukrainian troops launched a surprise attack in the north-east of the country. The Russians were taken by surprise after large parts of the troops had been moved south. Various observers later reported that the Russians fled in confusion, leaving weapons and equipment behind.

Within six days, the Ukrainian military recaptured some 3,000 square kilometers of Russian-held territory. Strategically important railway junctions, which were used to supply the Ukrainian armed forces, were also freed.

The surprise attack stunned the Kremlin, US officials and Ukrainian leaders: “I taught myself to lower my expectations so as not to be disappointed later,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Reznikov told Time. According to Reznikov, there are some breakthroughs but then came much faster than planned.

Modern weaponry and intelligence information provided by the West was also helpful: “They gave us the location of the enemy, how many of them were there and what they had stored there. Then we struck,” said Resnikov.

But another factor was crucial for Ukrainian officials: the flexible command structure allowed the Ukrainian armed forces to take advantage of the rapid Russian collapse.

As the Ukrainian Defense Minister says: “The Ukrainian army has the freedom to make decisions at any level”. In contrast to the Russians, they would do this extremely quickly, according to Resnikov. The entire constellation of the military elite is responsible for the success of the counter-offensive: from officers of the armed forces, infantry, navy to the air force.

Despite recent successes, Ukraine’s counter-offensive initially only bought time. Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Time: “Russia has staked everything on this war.” For him it is clear that Putin cannot lose because there is too much at stake.

Commander-in-Chief Zalushny is also preparing for a long and bloody battle: “From what I know firsthand about the Russians, our victory will not be final.” Rather, victory would be an opportunity to take a deep breath and prepare for the next war, analyzes Zalushny.