Ukraine liberates more towns, pushes for Russian troops to keep surrendering: Sept. 13 recap

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Editor's note: This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Tuesday, Sept. 13. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Wednesday, Sept. 14, as Russia's invasion continues.

The Ukraine military claimed Tuesday that it had downed one of Russia's Iran-built drones as Kyiv's counteroffensive continued to drive back the invaders from northeastern towns occupied since the early weeks of the war.

The Ukrainian military published images of wreckage from the drone, encountered near Kupiansk in Kharkiv province, where Ukraine troops have made a push in recent days into the strategically important city of Izyum.

In Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry tried to tamp down emerging unrest at the progress of the war, saying teams of attack helicopters are making more than five combat sorties every day to disrupt the counteroffensive near Izyum. Russian forces also shelled the center of Kharkiv, knocking out power and water in some areas of the city, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said.

Electricity had been fully restored in the region of Kharkiv by Tuesday evening, according to a Telegram post from Ukrainian presidential aide Kyrylo Tymoshenko.

Russia has withdrawn many troops from the province, but claims this was a planned regrouping to increase efforts on the southern Donetsk front.

“The enemy is demoralized and is looking for ways to leave the occupied territories," Ukraine's Operational Command South said. "But the occupiers still have a lot of strength and power."

A major surge: Ukraine retakes more territory in a week than Russia captured in months

'SITUATION MORE DIFFICULT BY THE HOUR': Ukrainian forces break through to Russian border. Updates

Latest developments:

►In addition to leaving the Kharkiv region, Russian troops were also abandoning Melitopol in the south and heading toward Moscow-annexed Crimea, said Ivan Fedorov, the city’s mayor before the occupation.

►Dmitry Palyuga, one of the district council members in St. Petersburg who last week called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be removed and charged with treason over the war in Ukraine, said he has been fined 47,000 rubles ($780) for "discrediting" the authorities, Reuters reported. On Monday, 18 municipal deputies signed a petition calling for Putin to resign, and that list has more than doubled, the news agency says.

►The U.N. said 129 loaded ships carrying more than 2.8 million tons of Ukrainian grain have left the Black Sea since an agreement was reached to lift a Russian blockade July 22, but fertilizer exports from Russia are still down despite being covered by the deal.

►Russia has spent more than $300 million since 2014 to try to covertly influence politicians and other officials in more than two dozen countries, the State Department said in a cable released Tuesday.

Ukraine tells Russian soldiers: 'You don’t need this war. Surrender'

As newly liberated residents in some parts of Ukraine celebrate the Russian retreat and inspect the charred tanks left behind, Ukrainian authorities are working to persuade more of the invading troops to give up the fight.

Amid unconfirmed reports that large numbers of Russian soldiers have surrendered, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar said the government is launching shells filled with flyers encouraging more of them to lay down their arms.

“Russians use you as cannon fodder,'' the flyers read. "Your life doesn’t mean anything for them. You don’t need this war. Surrender to Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

US refrains from 'spiking the ball' over Ukraine's gains

Admiration for what Ukraine has accomplished on the battlefield lately is warranted. Declaring victory? That would be premature, observers and U.S. officials say.

The Biden administration has refrained from publicly celebrating the Ukrainians' stunning gains of the last few days — particularly in the northeast — which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said has led to up to 2,300 square miles of reclaimed territory.

The sight of Russian troops in hasty retreat has brought jubilation to Ukrainians, but National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to call it a turning point in a conflict that started more than 200 days ago, pointing out the unpredictability of war.

Kirby said Russia has problems with command, logistics and unit cohesion but still has a large and potent military with plenty of power — including nuclear weapons.

“They clearly still have a military capable of inflicting great damage,” he said.

Russian forces also maintain control of large swaths of the east and south, including the industrial Donbas region, where they remain in charge in one of the two provinces and part of the other.

“I agree there should be no spiking of the ball because Russia still has cards it can play,” said Philip Breedlove, a retired U.S. Air Force general who was NATO’s top commander from 2013 to 2016. “Ukraine is now clearly making durable changes in its east and north and I believe that if the West properly equips Ukraine, they’ll be able to hold on to their gains.”

Putin aide: Criticism of war allowed, 'but the line is very, very thin'

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked about simmering criticism at home of the war effort, said it was permissible by law, but with limits. Peskov cited the adverse reactions as an example of "pluralism," adding that Russians overall remain firmly in support of President Vladimir Putin. The Defense Ministry has taken a beating on Russian social media – and even among some Russian TV commentators – for what in some cases have been viewed as hasty, sloppy retreats.

"As for other points of view, critical points of view, as long as they remain within the law, this is pluralism, but the line is very, very thin," Peskov said. "One must be very careful here."

He said plans still call for continuing the war until goals are achieved. No plans to greatly increase troop strength through a draft have been made, he said.

Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine towns liberated from Russia, troops surrendering