Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said Ukrainian forces were making strong advances in the ongoing counteroffensive, joining other Western allies in showing more hope for the operation as troops push through thick Russian lines in the southeast.

Blinken said at a press conference in Ukraine that he is seeing “real progress” in the counteroffensive operation.

“Ukrainian forces have taken back more than 50 percent of the territory seized by Russian forces since February of 2022,” he said. “In the ongoing counteroffensive, progress has accelerated in the past few weeks.”

The secretary of state also said he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the counteroffensive and found his assessments match the U.S. analysis of “real progress in recent weeks.”

Ukraine is trying to reach a breakthrough in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, where Russian soldiers are entrenched behind anti-tank obstacles and minefields.

While progress has generally been slow, Ukraine last week pierced the main line of Russian defenses and seized the town of Robotyne, leading to hopes in the West that the next lines of defense will be weaker and easier to get through.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the European Union Parliament on Thursday that Ukraine is “gradually gaining ground.”

“This is difficult fighting, but they have been able to breach the defensive lines of Russian forces and they are moving forward,” he said.

Blinken also told NBC News on Thursday that the Ukrainians “knew this was going to be a hard fight,” but the last two weeks have seen “very tangible progress” and a “real forward movement.”

After the capture of Robotyne, the nearby towns of Novoprokopivka and Verbove have emerged as the next focus of Ukraine’s movement in Zaporizhzhia.

The larger aim in the region is to reach the Sea of Azov by capturing the cities of Melitopol or Berdyansk near the coast. Ukraine is still far from that goal but is getting closer and closer to a key waypoint, the town of Tokmak.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar this week said Ukrainian forces are moving closer to the town of Novoprokopivka, while Russians are suffering heavy casualties defending against the advance.

Russian military bloggers are reporting that fighting is still fierce around Robotyne and that Ukrainian advances toward Novoprokopivka and Verbove are failing.

Ukraine is also conducting counteroffensive operations in the southern Donetsk region, north from Zaporizhzhia, and around the Donestk city of Bakhmut.

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