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Ukraine scores important battlefield wins

But besting Vladimir Putin at the game he started means confronting pitfalls ahead.

A Ukranian soldier stands atop an abandoned Russian tank near a village on the outskirts of Izyum, Kharkiv Region, eastern Ukraine, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on Sept. 11.JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine has in the past week or so pulled off the seemingly impossible. A counteroffensive against its Russian invaders has reclaimed more than 1,000 square miles of previously occupied territory in the Kharkiv province. In Boston-centric terms, that’s more than the land mass of all of Suffolk and Middlesex counties combined.

“Ukrainian forces have penetrated Russian lines to a depth of up to 70 kilometers in some places and captured over 3,000 square kilometers of territory in the past five days since September 6 — more territory than Russian forces have captured in all their operations since April,” was the way the Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank that has tracked the hostilities, put it in its weekend dispatch.


The victories have come with the assistance of US intelligence and with an enormous outpouring of military assistance from the United States and its allies but would have been impossible without the unwavering courage and tenacity of a people fighting to preserve their homeland.

Last week US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III announced another $675 million in military supplies, including air-launched missiles capable of destroying enemy radar and the critical truck-mounted long range HIMARS (short for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) that can hit a target 50 miles away within 30 feet of its aim point.

That latest tranche of military aid will bring the total sent to Ukraine — much of it from the Pentagon’s own stockpiles — to $13.5 billion.

A new funding request for Ukraine aid of $13.7 billion is still pending before Congress, but it includes the usual Washington hodge-podge — such as $2 billion for reducing domestic energy costs. It also includes both military and economic assistance for Ukraine and another $750 million for additional Lockheed Martin-made HIMARS.


Some Republicans are balking at the bill, but this is no time for the United States to lose focus or to cut back when Ukrainian strategy, combined with the right weapons at the right time, seems to have brought about the previously unimaginable — a path to Ukrainian victory.

Russian military ineptitude, aided by the plummeting morale of Russian soldiers fighting with bad equipment and for a cause many have long since lost faith in, have certainly helped the Ukrainian effort. Reports of desertions are so numerous that the Ukrainian security service has set up a hot line Russian soldiers can call if they choose to surrender.

Yes, this is a war like no other in our lifetimes — an unnecessary war planned, plotted, and staged by Vladimir Putin. The efforts by the invaders to hold fake referendums on joining Russia in the occupied territories make crystal clear what the war’s purpose was all along: not to “denazify” Ukraine, as Putin absurdly claimed, but simply to expand Russia’s borders. Now that this war of conquest is not going Putin’s way, that raises its own kind of dangers.

An autocrat with nothing left to lose can be a dangerous man. Russia has already shown its total disregard for human life by authorizing the shelling of civilian targets and endangering the region with the cavalier treatment of the nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia.

“This is an unsustainable situation and is becoming increasingly precarious,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement. “The power plant has no offsite power. And we have seen that once infrastructure is repaired, it is damaged once again.”


So for all the hopeful news from Kharkiv and Izium, for all the new possibilities and the potential for a Ukrainian victory, the danger remains — fueled by a conscienceless dictator bent on restoring a lost empire.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, speaking in Kyiv over the weekend, insisted that “victory” would mean a return to that nation’s 1991 border, including Crimea (annexed by Russia in 2014) and a restoration of the Donbas. He also included a call for war crime tribunals and reparations — both items already demanded by President Volodymyr Zelensky in earlier speeches.

It was Zelensky himself who last month laid the groundwork for what peace — if or when it comes — might look like by calling for a “multilateral international agreement” with Ukraine’s partners on the narrower issue of compensation for the victims of this war. But the existing partnership with the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Parliament, and others is a good place to start if the moment comes to move from the battlefield to the conference table.

That moment has not yet arrived. But the Ukrainian people and their leaders can surely be forgiven if they take this particular time — just over 200 days into this war — to savor the immediate hard-fought victories.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.