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Is Ukraine’s Counteroffensive a Turning Point?

Sudden success has raised hopes in Kyiv and threatens to disrupt Moscow’s official narrative on the war.

By , a senior editor at Foreign Policy.
A Ukrainian soldier stands atop an abandoned Russian tank.
A Ukrainian soldier stands atop an abandoned Russian tank.
A Ukrainian soldier stands atop an abandoned Russian tank on the outskirts of Izyum, Ukraine, on Sept. 11. JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ukraine’s lightning counteroffensive has raised hopes in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital; Kenya’s new president takes office; and King Charles III’s ascension to the throne stirs a debate throughout the Commonwealth. I’m filling in for Christina Lu, who has the day off.

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Is This a Turning Point in Ukraine?

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ukraine’s lightning counteroffensive has raised hopes in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital; Kenya’s new president takes office; and King Charles III’s ascension to the throne stirs a debate throughout the Commonwealth. I’m filling in for Christina Lu, who has the day off.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Is This a Turning Point in Ukraine?

Ukrainian forces moved further into territory recaptured from fleeing Russian troops on Monday. Ukrainian officials reported that soldiers had taken back more than 20 occupied towns or villages in the country’s northeast in just 24 hours, as they gain ground in the south as well. Ukraine’s lightning counteroffensive, which began last week, has nearly carried its troops to the border with Russia—making it the worst setback for Moscow since the first weeks of the war in March.

Ukraine has reportedly taken back all of Kharkiv Oblast, where the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office has already begun investigating possible Russian war crimes. The speed of the campaign has surprised both Western and Ukrainian officials, who said the quick gains show that it is possible for Kyiv to win the war, FP’s Jack Detsch reports. In Washington, Moscow’s failure has raised questions about flagging morale among Russian soldiers.

The sudden success has raised hopes in Ukraine that this might be a turning point in the war, particularly if it could convince Western countries to supply heavier weapons. The counteroffensive could boost optimism in Brussels or Berlin, where the German defense minister has rejected Ukraine’s calls for main battle tanks. Ukraine still faces a major challenge in the northeast: Russia has retaliated with strikes on power plants and other targets, knocking out water and electricity in Kharkiv city.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting on the economy on Monday while Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to directly answer questions about Ukraine’s counteroffensive and repeated that Russia would achieve its military goals. But state media has somewhat changed its tune: Lawmakers and pundits on state television have started to express diverging opinions, including some urging peace negotiations.

The response among Putin’s most extreme supporters could be the most dangerous—especially in the case of defeat. Anger about Russia’s military failures has coalesced into a protest movement, journalist Alexey Kovalev writes in FP, with right-wing nationalists accusing Russia’s leadership of holding back and calling for the war to escalate. Ramzan Kadyrov, the Russian-appointed leader of Chechnya who commands his own paramilitary force, has criticized the military leadership for making “mistakes” in Ukraine on Telegram.

This narrative could take on a life of its own, with long-term consequences that could outlast the war in Ukraine. “[B]y creating a fantasy world in which a supposedly all-powerful Russian army is being defeated by domestic enemies … the movement has potentially disturbing implications for a postwar and possibly post-Putin Russia,” Kovalev writes.


What We’re Following Today

Kenya swears in new president. Kenyan President-elect William Ruto is expected to be sworn in today in Nairobi following a court battle over the country’s Aug. 9 election, which Ruto won narrowly. Kenya’s Supreme Court upheld the results last week, rejecting opposition candidate Raila Odinga’s accusations of election interference. Outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, who backed Odinga’s campaign despite Ruto being his vice president, publicly congratulated Ruto for the first time on Monday.

Ruto, who becomes Kenya’s fifth president, has made big promises—despite some doubts about his mixed record as vice president. “The administration that I’m going to run is going to be an administration that is going to serve all Kenyans equally, whether they voted for us or they did not,” the president-elect told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last week.

The future of the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin travels today from Edinburgh, Scotland, to London, where she will lie in state. Meanwhile, in the 14 other Commonwealth countries where the British monarch remains head of state, King Charles III’s ascension to the throne has resurfaced a debate about the royal family’s role. Republican movements—like that which succeeded in Barbados in 2021—may find momentum in the absence of the queen, who ruled for seven decades.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reaffirmed her view that New Zealand should eventually become a republic but said the matter was not urgent. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda said he would introduce a referendum on whether to become a republic if he is reelected next year. Jamaica seems most likely to face the issue soon, as it may require a constitutional referendum to appoint the new king head of state.

For each of the Commonwealth countries, the issue is tied up in the royal family’s links to Britain’s dark imperial legacy, something that then-Prince Charles sought to address in Barbados last year. The late queen never critiqued or apologized for that past—even as she oversaw the empire’s end, FP’s Howard W. French argues.


Keep an Eye On

Sweden’s election results. A bloc of right-wing parties led by the far-right Sweden Democrats—which is the countrys second-largest party after a strong showing—holds a very slim lead over the left-wing coalition in the general elections held last Sunday, with 95 percent of the vote counted. The current vote share would likely give the winning bloc just a one-seat majority in parliament, though that could change with votes from Swedish citizens abroad and early votes coming in. A final tally is expected on Wednesday.

Although some mainstream parties sought to adopt the far-right partys positions on crime and immigration to score votes, their strategy doesn’t seem to have paid off—with those that cooperated with the Sweden Democrats all losing support instead.

Peace talks in Ethiopia? After a resurgence of violence last month, rebels in Ethiopia’s Tigray region have announced they are ready to abide by a cease-fire and participate in peace talks led by the African Union. In a statement, Tigrayan authorities said they wish to see Ethiopians and the people of Tigray “no longer hear the sound of gunfire, the blockade of essential services and humanitarian aid, and associated pain and suffering.”

The Ethiopian government did not issue any immediate comment. The White House said Monday that it “welcomes” the announcement.


Monday’s Most Read

Breaking History for No Good Reason by Steven A. Cook

A Ukrainian Victory Would Liberate Eastern Europe by Brian Whitmore

Why Non-Alignment Is Dead and Won’t Return by C. Raja Mohan


Odds and Ends

After much public concern over what would happen to Queen Elizabeth II’s beloved corgis after her death, CNN reports that the dogs will live with the Duke and Duchess of York, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. The couple divorced in 1996 but both live on an estate near Windsor Castle. The queen kept corgis throughout her life after receiving one as a gift on her 18th birthday. She leaves behind four dogs, including two corgis, one mixed breed “dorgi,” and a cocker spaniel. It’s still unclear who will look after the other two dogs.

Katie Nodjimbadem contributed to this report. 

Audrey Wilson is a senior editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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