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Ukraine live briefing: Russian retreat in northeast fuels cautious optimism for Kyiv and allies

Ukrainian forces recaptured most of the Kharkiv region. Despite setbacks, the Kremlin insists that the war will continue on Sept. 12. (Video: Reuters)
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A Ukrainian counteroffensive and Russian retreat in the northeast have fueled optimism in Kyiv and Western capitals.

“What you’re seeing is certainly a shift in momentum,” White House press secretary John Kirby told reporters Tuesday. “We have seen the Russians evacuate, withdraw, retreat from their defensive positions ... in the face of Ukrainian armed forces that are clearly on the offense.”

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Kharkiv could mark a turning point in the war, Western officials said, while Moscow described its pullback as a decision to “regroup.” The lightning advance in the Kharkiv region could raise pressure on Moscow to call up more forces. “The question will be how the Russians will react, but their weaknesses have been exposed and they don’t have great manpower reserves or equipment reserves,” a U.S. official told The Washington Post.
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone for 90 minutes on Tuesday. During the call, Scholz said that “any further Russian annexation steps would not go unanswered” and would not be recognized, according to a statement by German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit. Scholz wrote in a tweet that Russia must withdraw its troops and recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity — “otherwise, a diplomatic solution is inconceivable.”
  • Russia said its war in Ukraine will continue “until the goals that have been set are achieved,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday. Russia’s ambitions have shifted during the war: After failing to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Russian forces turned their fire to the eastern Donbas region. Peskov on Tuesday ruled out plans for a general mobilization to reinforce troops in Ukraine, calling it “out of the question” in a briefing with reporters.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency said that all three backup power lines to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant were restored over the last few days. In a Tuesday statement, the agency said Ukrainian engineers made progress in repairing vital power infrastructure that had been damaged in shelling near the plant.

Battlefield updates

  • Fighting is still raging in Kharkiv as Ukrainian forces advance, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar told Reuters on Tuesday. “It is still early to say full control has been established over Kharkiv region,” she added. See maps of Ukraine’s gains here.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his forces recaptured more than 2,300 square miles in the country’s south and east this month. Ukraine’s military said Monday it took 20 more towns and villages in 24 hours. The claims could not be independently verified. Photos of Ukrainian flags raised in Bohorodychne and Sviatohirsk, on the banks of the Donets River, circulated widely on social media.
  • Videos and photos provide a glimpse into what Russian troops left behind during their hasty retreat.
  • Pentagon press secretary Patrick Ryder declined Tuesday to say whether the United States had helped Ukraine plan the Kharkiv counteroffensive. But he also emphasized the ongoing military cooperation between Washington and Kyiv. “We do engage with the Ukrainians at a variety of levels on the military side,” he said at a briefing with reporters. “We do provide time-sensitive information to enable them to conduct their operations and defend their homeland.”
  • Oleksandr Shapoval, a renowned dancer at Ukraine’s National Opera ballet, was killed in combat in eastern Ukraine. Shapoval went to battle and served as a grenade launcher, said Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian official.

Global impact

  • Russia has secretly funneled at least $300 million to foreign political parties and candidates in more than two dozen countries since 2014 in an attempt to shape political events beyond its borders, according to a new U.S. intelligence review.
  • Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet in Uzbekistan this week, marking their first face-to-face meeting since the start of the war in Ukraine. A senior Chinese official said Beijing was willing to “continue working with Russia to firmly support each other on issues involving core interests and major concerns,” state media reported.
  • Clashes erupted along the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia, killing at least 49. The flare-up is part of a decades-long conflict over disputed territory. Azerbaijan may have seized an opportunity while Armenia’s chief ally, Russia, is distracted by its losses in Ukraine, analysts said.
  • The United States issued visas for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and some members of his delegation to travel to New York for the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 20, Russia’s official Tass news agency reported Tuesday. Russia’s Foreign Ministry previously accused the U.S. government of delaying the visa process.
  • Pope Francis on Tuesday condemned the “senseless and tragic war” in Ukraine, on a visit to Kazakhstan. Addressing officials and civil society members in the capital, Nur-Sultan, the pope said Kazakhstan sits at a “significant geopolitical crossroads,” which gives it a “fundamental role to play in lessening cases of conflict.”

From our correspondents

Putin, tone deaf and isolated, pursues war ‘goals’ and refuses to lose:

Vladimir Putin’s definitive quality as president — his refusal ever to back down — helped him project Russian global power for years, Robyn Dixon reports.

But facing repeated setbacks in a catastrophic war in Ukraine, his inflexible approach is looking more like his great flaw.

If Putin sticks to his habit of refusing to back down, analysts say, he is most likely to grind on, she writes.