Yesterday morning I received a revealing text message from an American general. “I think I spoke too soon and was too pessimistic,” he wrote.

He was referring to a conversation we had a fortnight ago, in which he told me grimly that there was little chance of a significant advance by Ukrainian troops against their Russian invaders until next spring.

However, as his subsequent text message acknowledged, the landscape today is rather different. Yesterday we learned that after three months of fierce fighting and weeks of painstaking clearance, Ukrainian forces decisively broke through the first Russian defensive line near Zaporizhzhia in the south-east of the country.

This is not just a major military breakthrough that could ultimately split Russian-occupied territory in two. It is also a scathing rebuttal of recent anonymous grunts from some international military and political circles that Ukrainian combat tactics are far from effective.

Among the pessimistic voices were those from the German Defense Ministry, which suggested that Ukrainian troops were not using the NATO tactics they had been taught.

Yesterday morning I received a revealing text message from an American general. “I think I spoke too soon and was too pessimistic,” he wrote.

Ukrainian servicemen fire a mortar at Russian troops from their position near a front line

Meanwhile, in Washington, rumors swirled that senior Ukrainian officers were too “casualty-averse” to really succeed. None of these criticisms are far from fair. NATO tactics rely heavily on the assumption of air and artillery superiority, which Ukraine does not possess.

And even if Kiev’s death toll of 70,000 is lower than Russia’s 120,000, it must be seen in the context of the latter’s vast population – three times that of its smaller neighbor. Proportionally, Ukraine’s losses are much worse: their bravery was exemplary and they are as “casualty-averse” as the theater of war demands.

The timing of this breakthrough is therefore crucial. The mood of many Western commentators has been particularly defeatist lately, even going so far as to speak of the need to negotiate with the tyrant Vladimir Putin. Some Western governments have also lost their will to offer help to Ukrainians. In Washington, a presidential election is looming, and Capitol officials are well aware that most Americans are domestically focused.

Europe too is facing skyrocketing costs of energy and living, and voters are finding foreign aid a much harder sell. Yet the simple fact is that alongside Western tanks and artillery, our billions in financial aid have kept Ukraine’s economy on life support.

Without it, Kiev would be in a very different position, as Putin well knows – which is why one of his goals is to continue the war long enough for Western enthusiasm to dry up. My grim conversation with this American general two weeks ago suggested that it might have paid off. But now, finally, some good news: a significant victory that promises to galvanize both Western allies and the struggling defending population.

Breaking through this first line of defense raises hopes for further advances, as Ukraine attempts to cut the crucial “land bridge” linking the Crimean peninsula to mainland Russia. Of course, the Ukrainians still have a long way to go: the second Russian defensive line would be more resistant than the first.

This is not just a major military breakthrough that could ultimately split Russian-occupied territory in two.

A British intelligence source, with whom I discussed the latest news yesterday, was also unusually optimistic.

Nevertheless, defensive lines can break like dams: first cracks appear, then all of a sudden they collapse. It may still take time in this case, but Moscow is clearly feeling the pressure, redeploying its troops to Zaporizhzhia from Kherson in the west and Lyman in the northeast.

History will judge whether this most recent advance will really determine the final outcome of the war. But it will generate much-needed momentum ahead of the heavy winter rains that will make meaningful progress nearly impossible.

A British intelligence source, with whom I discussed breaking news yesterday, was also unusually optimistic, predicting that “when the Ukrainian offensive stops for the winter, Russian supply lines will be under their weapons”. Hopefully he’s right.

Mark Galeotti is an honorary professor at the School of Slavic and East European Studies at University College London and author of 24 books on Russia, including a biography of Putin.

Back to school Kharkiv style

Children attend the first organized day of school in a subway

Going underground: the students go down to class

They live near the front, but these Ukrainian students were still at their desk yesterday for the start of the school year.

Dressed in national costume, they studied in an underground network bunker because their hometown of Kharkiv is 30 miles from the Russian border.

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