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Putin poised to escalate ‘nuclear threat’ as Ukraine claims counteroffensive win

Russian tank targeted on frontline in Ukraine

Ukraine claims to have breached Russian defensive lines and retaken a village in the southeast after it launched its main thrust on Thursday.

The news should “boost morale” among Ukrainian soldiers, who have been bogged down by landmines and fierce fighting as they have attempted to pierce the more than 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line since early June, former Defense Intelligence Agency Officer Matt Shoemaker tells Daily Express US.

However, the ex-DIA officer notes, a win on the battlefield is likely to spark “another round of nuclear saber-rattling” from Vladimir Putin as Russia’s beleaguered president struggles to score a decisive victory 17 months into his invasion of Ukraine.

In a video published by President Zelensky, Ukrainian troops said they had retaken the village of Staromaiorske, located 150km (90 miles) east of the city of Zaporizhzhia.

Kyiv’s military claims it liberated the occupied territory under dense artillery fire and air strikes.

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“After two months of disappointment in the initial phase of the counteroffensive, breaking through the initial Russian defensive lines will give Kyiv proof they need to ask for additional Western assistance,” Mr Shoemaker said.

Having said that, the former DIA officer added, “we’re barely 24 hours into what may be the next phase of the counteroffensive”.

He explained: “Russia has multiple defensive lines of which the first one appears to have been breached by the Ukrainians. It is possible for the Russians to regroup and push the Ukrainians back or the Russians could fall back to the second defensive lines but time will tell what the next step is.

“In an ideal world for the Ukrainians, the Russians will be so confused or demoralized by this that they are unable to regroup. The Ukrainians would then be able to exploit this fault in the Russian defenses, push hard into these unorganized lines and cause absolute chaos within the Russian ranks.”

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Rejoice with realism

In Mr Shoemaker’s frank assessment, this “initial victory is encouraging news for the Ukrainians and absolutely will be a morale booster in the short term”.

As he explained, it is great for messaging and Ukrainian morale, but expectations must be managed as there will be a very bloody and challenging fighting yet to come.

“What I will be looking for is two or three weeks from now, where is the new line of contact? Is it one mile, five miles, or 50 miles from where it currently is? That will give us a much clearer understanding of how effective the Ukrainian army has been and how inept the Russians have been,” the ex-DIA officer said.

Also, there’s another dimension to this – Putin’s response. In Mr Shoemaker’s estimation, Putin does not have very many good options left.

“He could ask Russia’s few allies to send troops or assistance, something most have been reluctant to send.”

As he points out, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – an intergovernmental military alliance in Eurasia consisting of six post-Soviet states – has generally refused sending troops and only sent limited equipment.

And North Korea, which said it fully supports Russia’s “battle for justice” as it entertained Moscow’s defence chief on Thursday, is unlikely to send troops halfway across the world to fight in Ukraine as it would not be in their interest to do so, Mr ShoeMaker added.

He explained: “Unless Putin promised something extravagant to North Korea, there’s not much they will do other than send ammunition.”

The ex-DIA officer would also not be surprised if Putin does “another round of nuclear saber rattling if the counteroffensive begins to show real progress”.

Mr Shoemaker reckons he may even claim that tactical nuclear weapons were in the vicinity of the frontlines (whether it’s true or not).

“For all the internal stress occurring in Russia behind the scenes, a collapse of the Russian front lines could bring those stresses out into the public. The Wagner mutiny last month is proof that internal stresses within Russia exist and have not gone away.”

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