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White House warns of ‘Putin’s military potential’

While himself enthusiastic about the reported advancements by the Ukrainian military in Kharkov Region, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday urged reporters not to lose sight of Russia’s military potential.

“They clearly still have a military capable of inflicting great damage and casualties,” Kirby told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday afternoon. For all the problems the Russians may have faced in Ukraine, their military is “still very large and very powerful” and Russian President Vladimir Putin “still has an awful lot of military capacity left at his disposal, not just to be used in Ukraine, but potentially elsewhere.”

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Ukrainian forces moved into areas north and east of Kharkov last week, with President Vladimir Zelensky claiming gains of 2,000 square kilometers. Moscow claimed the Russian troops that previously held the strategically important city of Izyum were “redeployed.”

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna told France 24 on Tuesday that the Kharkov operation was a “turning point” not just of the fighting since February, but of “the war that started in the spring of 2014,” referring to Kiev’s efforts to suppress the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in the aftermath of the US-backed coup.

Earlier in the day, appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Kirby expressed confidence that Kiev could maintain the pace of operations, noting that “they’ve planned this counteroffensive pretty carefully.”

According to the New York Times, British and US military officials worked together with Ukraine’s general staff to plan the counterattack. The new US defense attache in Kiev, Brigadier-General Garrick Harmon, “began having daily sessions with Ukraine’s top officers” in the run-up to the counteroffensive, the paper reported on Tuesday. 

“We did do some modeling and some tabletop exercises,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told the Times in a telephone interview. “That set of exercises suggested that certain avenues for a counteroffensive were likely to be more successful than others. We provided that advice, and then the Ukrainians internalized that and made their own decision.”

The US also provided Ukraine with intelligence about Russian positions, pointing out the front in the northeast was weaker than in the south, Kahl said. Kiev’s major offensive in the south, aiming for Kherson, has not seen significant progress.

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