Ukraine live briefing: U.S., U.K. say Russia’s retreat from Lyman ‘significant,’ hurts its ability to resupply troops

Former top U.S. officials David Petraeus and H.R. McMaster on Oct. 2 said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest threats in Ukraine would not change the war. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Lyman, a key supply hub in eastern Ukraine, was “fully cleared” of Russian forces this weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday, as Western military leaders past and present cast the troops’ withdrawal as a strategic victory that could undermine Russia’s effort to control the Donetsk region. Donetsk is one of four Ukrainian regions that Russia claimed it annexed after staged referendums, in violation of international law and despite widespread global criticism. Russia, meanwhile, is looking ahead to next steps after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the annexations.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog called for Russian forces to release the director of the Zaporizhzhia power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear facility.

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

Key developments

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday cautioned Russia against following through with escalatory nuclear threats, which he said were “irresponsible.” “Nuclear saber-rattling is not the kind of thing that we would expect to hear from leaders of large countries with capability,” he said on CNN. Austin said he expected Ukrainian forces to continue its counteroffensive in an attempt to recapture all of their country’s territory. “I don’t think that’s going to stop, and we will continue to support them in their efforts.”
  • The Zaporizhzhia plant director’s detention is “frank Russian terror, for which the terrorist state must bear an ever-increasing punishment,” Zelensky said in his Sunday night address. Earlier, the Institute for the Study of War think tank called Igor Murashov’s detention a sign that “Russia is likely setting conditions to assume legal responsibility” for the plant; International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi called for Murashov “to resume his important functions at the plant.”
  • Russia is taking procedural steps to annex Ukrainian territories, with its Constitutional Court ruling that so-called treaties on the annexation of Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk were consistent with the Russian constitution. The documents are expected to pass through both houses of Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament Monday and Tuesday, after which Russia will consider annexation to be complete.
  • What’s next? The Donetsk and Luhansk forces would be incorporated into the Russian military, the Russian ruble would be introduced and Ukrainians could become Russian citizens, after an oath of loyalty to Russia, said the chairman of the State Duma committee on construction and legislation, Pavel Krasheninnikov. Prosecutors would be appointed and Russia’s judicial system would be imposed, he said.

Spotlight: Russia’s retreat from Lyman

  • Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted that “almost all” of the Russian troops in Lyman had been killed or captured. Zelensky indicated the city was under its control and troops had retreated from the city, after it was encircled by Ukrainian forces. A video recorded in the city shows Ukrainian troops throwing Russian flags from atop a government building, a ceremonial end to Kremlin-backed control of the area.
  • The loss of Lyman “could turn into a cascading series of defeats for the Russians,” retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “What we might be here is really at the precipice of really the collapse of the Russian army in Ukraine. … They must really be at a breaking point.” McMaster, who served as one of President Donald Trump’s national security advisers, added that the United States should be communicating to Putin that “if you use a nuclear weapon, it’s a suicide weapon.”
  • Russia’s pullout from Lyman “represents a significant political setback” for Moscow, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Sunday, “given that it is located within … a region Russia supposedly aimed to ‘liberate’ and has attempted to illegally annex.” Within Russia, the Lyman retreat prompted another wave of public criticism of the country’s military leadership, the ministry added.

Battleground updates

  • Putin is in an “irreversible” predicament in his unwinnable war, former CIA director David Petraeus said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “No amount of annexation; no amount of even veiled nuclear threats can actually get him out of this particular situation,” the retired Army general said of Putin. He continued: “He can’t generate enough capable replacements and forces and units to plug the gaps. They’re just going to continue to try to reestablish new defensive lines in the east. They’re going to lose Kherson in the South. And eventually you’re going to see some puncture in Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia in the center south.”
  • A missile struck the city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine early Sunday, damaging buildings and injuring at least seven people, the regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, said on Telegram. Separately, Russian forces struck the wider Mykolaiv region overnight, killing two people, Kim added, citing Ukraine’s southern military command.
  • Ukrainian officials said that 24 people were killed when suspected Russian shelling hit a convoy of cars in the northeastern region of Kharkiv last week. Thirteen were children, the Ukrainian Security Service said Saturday. Much of the region came back under Ukrainian control last month after a counteroffensive and Russian retreat, but this shelling struck a zone that neither side fully controls.
  • Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska dedicated a battleship in Turkey on Sunday. The Turkish-built corvette is the first of its kind in the Ukrainian navy. Photos and video of the ceremony show Zelenska posing with navy members and cutting a rope to the ship before it is lowered into the water. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov ended his tweet about the ship with an aspiration for its home to be in Crimea: “P.S. The future base port is in Ukrainian Sevastopol.”

Global impact

  • Pope Francis appealed to Putin directly, imploring him to “stop this spiral of violence and death” for the sake of humanity and his own people. At the same time, he urged Zelensky to “be open to serious proposals for peace.” The leader of the Roman Catholic Church said in his Sunday address that the staged referendums and annexation declarations in recent days had increased “the risk of nuclear escalation.”
  • The leaders of nine European NATO countries said they “will never recognize Russian attempts to annex any Ukrainian territory.” In a joint statement, the presidents of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania and Slovakia called Russia’s moves toward annexing four regions in eastern Ukraine a “blatant violation of international law.”
  • Latvia’s prime minister pledged to solidify support for Ukraine ahead of a difficult winter without Russian gas after preliminary results from Saturday’s parliamentary election showed his party winning with 19 percent of the vote. “I see no chance that any government in Latvia will stop supporting Ukraine,” Krisjanis Karins told Reuters. The comment came as natural gas supply from Russian energy giant Gazprom to Italy was shut off Saturday, Italian provider Eni said.

Karoun Demirjian, Marisa Iati, Amy B Wang and Jeanne Whalen contributed to this report.

From our correspondents

Americans captured by Russia detail months of beatings, interrogation. In their first extensive interview since being freed, Alex Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh recounted to reporter Dan Lamothe the physical and psychological abuse they endured over 104 days in captivity.

They had evaded Russian forces for hours, slogging through pine forests and marshes in Ukraine to avoid detection. The U.S. military veterans were left behind — “abandoned,” they said — after their Ukrainian task force was attacked, and determined that their best chance of survival was to hike back to their base in Kharkiv.

What followed was an excruciating, often terrifying 104 days in captivity. They were interrogated, subjected to physical and psychological abuse, and given little food or clean water, Drueke and Huynh recalled. Initially, they were taken into Russia, to a detention complex dotted with tents and ringed by barbed wire, they said. Their captors later moved them, first to a “black site” where the beatings worsened, Drueke said, and then to what they called a more traditional prison run by Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

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