UKRAINE could seize back Crimea as Putin's forces continue to scramble away from the frontline amid a stunning counterblitz, according to a US official.
Humiliated Putin has seen his troops crumble and lose huge swathes of territory in recent weeks as Ukrainian defenders close in on Kherson.
The lightning advance puts Ukraine's army in striking distance of Kherson city – the only provincial capital captured since February 24 that is still in Russian control.
As Ukraine continues to blitz across the country, a senior US military official has said the country could retake Crimea – annexed by Russia in 2014 – if it continues to recapture territory at this pace.
The source told the Telegraph: "The recapture of Crimea by Ukraine is now a distinct possibility and can no longer be discounted.
"It is clear that Russia no longer has the ability or willpower to defend key positions, and if the Ukrainians succeed in their goal of recapturing Kherson, then there is a very real possibility that it will ultimately be able to recapture Crimea."
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The official's comments echoed those of US deputy assistant secretary of defence, Laura Cooper, who said Crimea was within Ukraine's reach – and that US weapons could be used to strike the region.
It follows a series of blasts at the Russian airbase in Crimea, with the latest just days ago.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is continuing to defiantly push back against Putin after he attempted to formally incorporate four parts of Ukraine into Russia.
Ukraine said it has retaken more settlements in Kherson – one of the four regions Putin "annexed" in a rambling speech last week in Europe's biggest land grab since World War Two.
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President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a late Wednesday address that Novovoskresenske, Novohryhorivka and Petropavlivka to the northeast of Kherson city had been "liberated".
Russian troops have now been ordered to retreat as Ukraine's southern tank assault steamrollers their positions – and Zelensky vowed he "won't stop".
A Putin stooge confirmed an order "to regroup" as pro-Russian blogs revealed the frontline had collapsed.
It comes as Russian soldiers cornered during Ukrainian's lightning-paced counteroffensive have been filmed surrendering with a white flag flying from their tank.
Thousands of Russian troops face being encircled on the west bank of the Dnipro after the only bridges across the four-mile-wide river were blitzed with US and UK long-range rockets.
Moscow's RIA Novosti state media outlet quoted Kherson official Kirill Stremousov as saying troops were "conducting a regrouping in order to gather their strength and deliver a retaliatory blow.”
Russian troops are expected to fall back to the Inhulets river, just a few miles east of the city.
If they are unable to halt Ukraine's advance, analysts warned Russian troops would loot dinghies and yachts from the city's marinas to escape at any cost.
Meanwhile, Russian forces are reported to have blasted the Zaporizhzhia area with seven missiles after Putin ordered for the nuclear plant to be absorbed into Russia.
On Wednesday, the tyrant demanded his government take control of Europe's largest nuke plant.
But ever defiant Kyiv hit back, with the boss of Ukraine's state energy announcing he was taking over the site.
The plant has become a focus of international concern over the possibility of a nuclear disaster after shelling in the area for which Moscow and Kyiv have blamed each other.
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Russia captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in March shortly after invading Ukraine, but Ukrainian staff have continued to operate it.
It is located in the southern Ukrainian region also called Zaporizhzhia, one of four regions that Putin formally incorporated into Russia.
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