- Ukraine’s recapture of Lyman deals a serious blow to Moscow
- The Chechen leader proposes the use of low-yield nuclear weapons
- Lyman is a major logistics hub in the eastern Donetsk region
- Donetsk is one of four regions that are now Russian, according to Putin
Kyiv, Oct 1 (Reuters) – Russia said on Saturday its troops had abandoned a key bastion in occupied eastern Ukraine, a stinging defeat that prompted one of President Vladimir Putin’s most combative allies to urge Russia to consider resorting to low-grade nuclear weapons draw .
Lyman’s fall comes just a day after Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions – including Donetsk, where Lyman is located – and placed them under Russia’s nuclear umbrella in a ceremony condemned by Kyiv and the West as an illegitimate farce .
“In connection with the creation of an encirclement threat, Allied troops were withdrawn from the settlement of Krasny Liman to more advantageous lines,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, using the Russian name of the city.
Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
The statement ended hours of official Moscow silence after Ukraine said first it had surrounded thousands of Russian troops in the region and then that its forces were in the town of Lyman.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the southern Chechnya region, who describes himself as Putin’s foot soldier, said he felt he had to speak out after the loss of territory.
“In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, up to and including the imposition of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov wrote on Telegram.
Other senior Putin allies, including former President Dmitry Medvedev, have suggested that Russia may have to resort to nuclear weapons, but Kadyrov’s call was the most urgent and clearest.
Putin said last week he was not bluffing when he said he was ready to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity” by any means available, and made it clear on Friday that this extended to the new regions claimed by Moscow.
Washington says it would respond decisively to any use of nuclear weapons and has pointed out to Moscow the “catastrophic consequences” it would face.
“WE ARE ALREADY IN LYMAN”
The statement by the Russian Defense Ministry did not mention that its troops were encircled at Lyman and differs sharply from the Ukrainian version of events.
“The Russian group in the Lyman area is surrounded,” Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Armed Forces, said hours earlier.
He said Russia has 5,000 to 5,500 troops at Lyman, but the number of troops trapped may be less due to casualties. Later in the afternoon he confirmed that Ukraine was in town.
“We’re already in Lyman but there’s fighting going on,” he said.
A Ukrainian soldier looks out of a tank, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in the frontline town of Lyman, Donetsk region, Ukraine, April 28, 2022. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
Two grinning Ukrainian soldiers pasted the yellow-and-blue national flag to the “Lyman” welcome sign at the entrance to the city in northern Donetsk region, a video posted by the president’s chief of staff showed.
“1. October. We unfurl our national flag and plant it on our land. Lyman will be Ukraine,” said one of the soldiers, standing on a military vehicle.
The battlefield claims could not be independently verified by either side.
In his comments, Kadyrov launched a savage attack on Colonel-General Alexander Lapin, the commander overseeing Lyman, whom he derided as “mediocrity.” Kadyrov also said he personally warned Russia’s army chief, General Valery Gerasimov, of an impending disaster.
“The general assured me that he had no doubts about Lapin’s leadership and did not believe that a retreat to …Lyman and the surrounding area was possible,” he said.
Russia has used Lyman as a logistics and transportation hub for its operations in the north of the Donetsk region. His capture is Ukraine’s biggest gain on the battlefield since a Blitz counter-offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region last month.
Ukraine’s military said its capture would allow Kyiv to advance into the Luhansk region, which Moscow announced it would fully capture in early July after weeks of slow, laborious progress.
“Lyman is important because it is the next step in the liberation of Ukrainian Donbass. It is an opportunity to go further to Kreminna and Sievierodonetsk and it is very important psychologically,” Cherevatyi said.
The Donetsk and Luhansk regions together make up the broader Donbass region, which has been a key focus for Russia since shortly after it began invading Moscow on February 24 in a so-called “special military operation” to demilitarize the neighbor.
Putin declared the Donbass regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia, to be Russian land at the ceremony on Friday — an area accounting for about 18% of Ukraine’s total land area.
Ukraine and its Western allies branded Russia’s move as illegal. Kyiv pledged to continue ridding its country of Russian forces and said it would not hold peace talks with Moscow as long as Putin remains president.
Retired US General Ben Hodges, a former US Army Europe commander, said a Russian defeat at Lyman following Putin’s declaration would be a major political and military embarrassment for the Russian leader.
“This sheds a strong light on his claim being illegitimate and unenforceable,” he said.
It remains to be seen how Ukrainian commanders would take advantage of the escape, he said, adding that it would likely further undermine the morale of Moscow troops holding other Ukrainian territories.
Sign up now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Felix Light, Mark Trevelyan; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.