In just one week in October the Ukrainian armed forces have regained more than 400 square kilometres of territory, according to the spokesman for the military command in southern Kiev. And much of this gain has occurred in one of the four regions that Vladimir Putin has illegally annexed from Russia. Ukrainian President Vlodimir Zelensky announced that the villages of Novovoskresenske, Novohryhorivka and Petropavlivka, northeast of the city of Kherson, have been "liberated". This comes just a day after Putin signed the constitutional decrees for the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporiyia.
Ukraine's counteroffensive has led to the withdrawal of thousands of Russian troops from the south and east since mid-September. This, coupled with the recovery of much of the territory, has prompted Zelensky himself to issue part of his communiqué in Russian to address the pro-Russian forces that they had already been defeated: "Ukrainians know what they are fighting for. And more and more citizens of Russia realise that they must die simply because one person does not want to end the war," the Ukrainian president said in his statement.
On the other hand, Putin is not worried about Ukraine's progress in the four newly annexed regions because, he says, they will stabilise: "We assume that the situation will stabilise, we will be able to calmly develop these territories". Next week, the UN General Assembly will vote on whether to condemn the annexation of the four cities. The Kremlin is pushing for the vote to be held in secret, as "this is a clearly politicised and provocative event aimed at deepening the division in the General Assembly and further separating its members", says Vassily Nebenzia, Russia's ambassador to the UN.
Moscow's idea is to annex new territories. At least this is what the Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, says: "certain territories will be reclaimed and we will continue to consult with residents who express their desire to live with Russia", in what will be new referendums without any recognition or validity, such as those in Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporiyia. Indeed, some high-ranking parliamentary officials have reprimanded the Russian military to "stop lying" as, they believe, it could lead to a loss of credibility, explained Andrei Kartapolov, head of the State Duma's Defence Committee.
To this internal dissent must be added the new sanctions package approved by the European Union to further damage the Russian economy. The oil price cap is one of the most important measures and one of the most difficult to agree on among the EU-27 due to Hungarian opposition and Greek, Maltese and Cypriot concern over the possible loss of market share with their competitors. However, it has managed to push through, which has led the Kremlin to threaten to halt the sale of crude oil "if market prices are not respected".
Ukraine's advance and its consequent gain of territory has brought the war into a new stage which, as EU High Representative Josep Borrell has already warned, is "a frightening scenario". Much of this concern is due to Putin's threats regarding the use of nuclear weapons. Russia's leader has assured that he intends to defend his territory - including the four newly annexed regions - with all the means at his disposal, including nuclear assets.
One of Putin's first moves in the four cities was to order the takeover of Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Zaporiyia. Although it was captured by Russian soldiers at the start of the war, it has remained in the hands of Ukrainian engineers until Putin signed a decree on Wednesday this week to formally take control of the six-reactor facility. Kiev has long accused Moscow of switching the plant off the power grid, which would increase the risk of an accident, according to the Ukrainians. However, Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will visit the capital of both countries in the coming days.