Ukraine Launches Counteroffensive as Russia Plans to Deploy Nuclear Weapons
KYIV, June 9 - Intense fighting erupted on Friday along the southern front in Ukraine, marking the start of the long-anticipated counteroffensive. Eyewitnesses and bloggers reported the presence of German and U.S. armored vehicles, suggesting Western support in the operation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed the offensive from Sochi, emphasizing that Ukrainian troops have yet to achieve their objectives in any sector. The counteroffensive is expected to involve thousands of Ukrainian troops, trained and equipped by Western countries. Despite Russia's claims of repelling attacks this week, Ukraine's main effort is still pending.
Reports from Moscow and pro-Russian bloggers indicate intense battles near Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia front, a crucial location connecting Russia to the Crimea peninsula. If confirmed, these reports would provide evidence of Ukraine's new brigades, armed and supported by Western nations, joining the battle.
Ukraine has approximately 50,000-60,000 troops ready to participate in the counteroffensive, with nine brigades armed and trained by the West out of the total of 12. The decision on troop deployment will depend on the evolving dynamics of the battlefield, with Ukraine aiming to maintain tactical surprise through deception and camouflage.
The Russian defense ministry reported that Ukraine's armed forces continued attempts to conduct offensive operations in southern Donetsk and Zaporozhzhia directions. Russian troops successfully repelled two Ukrainian assaults south of Orikhiv and four near Velyka Novosilka, where Ukraine deployed two battalions supported by tanks. Each brigade typically consists of several battalions totaling up to 1,000 troops.
Limited information has been provided by Kyiv about the southern front, believed to be the main thrust toward the coast. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar acknowledged ongoing battles for Velyka Novosilka and described Russian troops as engaging in "active defense" at Orikhiv.
In the eastern region, Ukraine reported territorial gains around Bakhmut, which had been captured by Russian forces the previous month after almost a year of intense ground combat. Journalists face restrictions in reaching the Ukrainian side of the front lines during offensive operations.
The initial days of the counteroffensive have been overshadowed by a major humanitarian disaster caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam. The resulting flood has devastated homes in the war zone and caused severe damage to nature preserves and irrigation systems. The Ukrainian government has reported at least four deaths and 13 people missing due to the flood.
Ukraine's security service released an intercepted phone call recording in which a Russian soldier allegedly confesses to a Russian sabotage group blowing up the dam. Moscow, however, claims that Ukraine sabotaged it. Western countries are gathering evidence but argue that Ukraine has no reason to inflict such a devastating disaster on itself, particularly as its forces shift to the offensive.
Rescue efforts have been hampered by ongoing shelling across the Dnipro River, which divides the two sides. Both parties accuse each other of interfering with rescue operations. In Hola Prystan on the Russian-occupied side of the river, residents have been evacuated in rubber dinghies, while some people remain stranded on roofs with limited food supplies in Russian-controlled territory.
In a significant development, President Vladimir Putin announced during his meeting with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko that Russia will commence the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus once the necessary facilities are ready, starting in early July. This marks the first time Putin has provided a specific timeframe for his plans, which were announced in March, to station 'tactical nuclear weapons' in the country situated north of Ukraine, considered one of Russia's key allies in the region.
Describing the progress of their cooperation on security, Putin stated, 'Everything is going to plan.' He further informed Lukashenko that the preparations for the corresponding nuclear facilities would be completed by July 7 or 8, enabling the prompt deployment of the intended weapons on Belarusian territory.
This announcement comes as Ukrainian forces mount a counteroffensive, successfully reclaiming occupied areas from Russian troops in southern and eastern Ukraine. A U.S. official reported that the long-awaited counteroffensive, aided by U.S. and NATO-trained brigades, is currently underway, with notable progress in engagements with Russian troops in the Zaporzhzhia region.
Acknowledging the continuation of global sanctions against their countries, Lukashenko emphasized self-reliance, stating, 'There's no point hoping that the sanctions will be lifted. No point even talking about it.'
It was previously agreed between the two leaders that Russia would station short-range, land-based 'tactical' nuclear missiles in Belarus, under Russian command. Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Belarus has served as a staging ground for Putin's forces.
If Putin follows through with his plans, this deployment would mark the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 that Russia has positioned tactical nuclear weapons outside its own territory, as reported by Reuters.
The Biden administration has consistently condemned Russia's announced intentions, with a spokesperson from the National Security Council denouncing the move as another example of Belarus' leader making 'irresponsible and provocative choices.' Reaffirming previous statements, the spokesperson stated that the United States has not seen any reason to adjust its own nuclear posture or indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.