If the takeover of four Ukrainian districts by Russia was meant to serve as a message to Ukraine to cease fighting, it has failed.
Ukrainian troops liberated more of the country from Russian occupation on Monday, launching aggressive offensives in the east following the successful recapture of Lyman and in the south, where Ukrainian units appear to have breached Russian defenses on the west side of the Dnipro River on the Kherson region.
Even the Russian Defense Ministry has to concede that things are not going well for Moscow, with spokesman Igor Konashenkov stating that "superior enemy tank units were able to penetrate the depth of our defense" in the Kherson region.
On the same day, the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the unlawful annexation of four Ukrainian areas into Russia, which President Vladimir Putin announced with great fanfare on Friday. Putin emphasized that the residents in the illegally seized regions are now "forever our citizens" and that Russia "will protect our land with every available resource."
This does not keep Ukraine's leaders awake at night.
In his address to the nation on Sunday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated, "The tale of the liberation of Lyman is today the most popular in the media. But our forces' victories are not confined to Lyman."
"This is the current trend... Recent pseudo-referendums were held someplace, and when the Ukrainian flag is back, no one will remember the Russian farce with some pieces of paper and annexations," he continued.
The Ukrainian counteroffensives focus on two primary fronts.
The one in the east is advancing on Kreminna, a city in the Luhansk area after Ukrainian troops recaptured Lyman – their most major gain in the past two weeks.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine's eastern army, stated on Ukrainian television, "Some [Russians] have been physically destroyed." According to him, the Russians are attempting to create a new defensive line, but the Ukrainians have been "targeting enemy units with artillery fire."
The second thrust occurs in the south of the country, where Ukrainian soldiers have spent weeks pushing against thousands of Russians on the west bank of the Dnipro River, after a series of strikes on the few bridges spanning the river made it difficult to resupply them.
In recent days, Ukrainians have begun to move.
According to the exiled authorities of the Kherson area, the Ukrainian army liberated the villages of Arkhanhelske and Myroliubivka within the past few hours.
Nataliya Gumenyuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine's southern military command, told Ukrainian television on Monday, "The situation continues to escalate."
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, believes that Russia's defeat around Lyman indicates that Vladimir Putin, who has reportedly been micromanaging Russian commanders on the ground, is "deprioritizing" the defense of the Luhansk region "in favor of holding occupied territories in southern Ukraine."
Russia's inability to halt Ukrainian counteroffensives, allegations of escalating disorder in the country's mobilization efforts, and difficulties in equipping and training new forces are causing escalating tensions among the country's political class.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen strongman, and Putin's friend slammed the Russian general in charge of defending Lyman as "talentedless" and demanded that he be reduced to private and sent to the front lines to "wash his shame in blood" on his Telegram channel on Saturday.
Kadyrov has also advocated for "extreme measures," such as the imposition of martial law and the use of "low-yield nuclear weapons."
This provoked a response from the Kremlin on Monday, when spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of Kadyrov, "even in difficult moments, emotions should not cloud any evaluations."
However, he continued, "We may employ nuclear weapons in accordance with the applicable doctrine... There is no room for any other considerations."
Russia's Tass news agency added that Russia's nuclear doctrine requires the use of nuclear weapons "if the enemy uses this or other types of weapons of mass destruction against Russia and its allies" and "in the event of aggression against Russia with conventional weapons that threaten the very existence of the state."