Zelensky, Citing Equipment Gaps, Says It’s Too Soon for Counteroffensive


KYIV, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned Thursday that Ukraine wanted extra time to start a counteroffensive in opposition to Russia as a result of it doesn’t but have sufficient army gear from its Western backers, although Ukrainian officers had repeatedly described the assault as imminent.

When it comes to personnel and motivation, Ukraine’s forces are prepared for the operation, Mr. Zelensky mentioned in an interview broadcast by the BBC on Thursday, however they’re nonetheless ready for some promised {hardware} from the West, particularly armored automobiles.

“We will go ahead, and, I believe, achieve success,” he mentioned. “However we’d lose lots of people. I believe that’s unacceptable. So we have to wait. We nonetheless want a bit extra time.”

Ukrainian army and political analysts mentioned Mr. Zelensky was proper concerning the persevering with shortfalls forward of an operation that Ukraine and its supporters hope will likely be a turning level within the conflict. However additionally they pointed to different potential motives behind his remarks: to stress the allies to ramp up deliveries, to decrease expectations for the counteroffensive, and to confuse the Kremlin about Kyiv’s intentions.

For months, Ukraine’s political and army leaders have been signaling that they’re getting ready a serious push to retake territory seized by Russia because it invaded final 12 months, although they haven’t mentioned exactly when or the place the blow would come. Some analysts have predicted that the counteroffensive can be centered on the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson areas of southern Ukraine, not within the japanese Donbas area the place the heaviest combating has been going down for months.

One Russian army chief claimed on Thursday that the Ukrainian counteroffensive was already underway.

Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, head of the Wagner personal militia, mentioned it was occurring within the Donbas and centered on the town of Bakhmut, the place his mercenaries have led a grueling assault that has claimed tens of hundreds of lives. In an audio message posted on Telegram by his press service, he dismissed Mr. Zelensky’s feedback as a ruse.

“The counteroffensive is going down at full velocity,” he mentioned, including that it will start within the Bakhmut space after which shift to the Zaporizhzhia area. He mentioned of the Ukrainians: “These items which have undergone the required coaching, acquired weapons, gear, tanks and every part else — they’re already absolutely engaged.”

Russia’s Protection Ministry said in a statement it had repelled some Ukrainian “reconnaissance in pressure” operations within the east, however described the actions in routine phrases and denied that there had been any breakthroughs.

Ukrainian forces have made good points round Bakhmut this week for the primary time since March, commanders on either side have mentioned, however it’s unclear whether or not these mirror opportunistic, small-scale assaults or the beginning of one thing greater.

Mr. Prigozhin has prior to now been forward of Russian officers in acknowledging what is going on on the battlefield, however he has additionally made questionable claims in his marketing campaign to pry extra provides out of a Russian army command that he criticizes bitterly.

A Russian army blogger, Oleksandr Simonov, who typically embeds with Wagner fighters in Ukraine, posted on Thursday that they’d made additional advances inside the town of Bakhmut, however that Ukrainian troops had compelled Russian troops into retreat in two spots north of the town. On Tuesday, the Russians ceded just a few sq. miles southwest of the town.

No matter Mr. Zelensky’s intensions, his level about being unprepared is right, mentioned Taras Chmut, who heads Come Again Alive, a charitable basis that gives army provides for the Ukrainian military. Regardless of tens of billions of {dollars} in weapons delivered, with extra on the way in which, the Ukrainian army is missing in matériel, together with artillery shells, armored automobiles and air protection programs, he mentioned.

“The quantity we gathered in latest months continues to be not sufficient for a profitable counteroffensive,” mentioned Mr. Chmut, a former army officer. However, he added, “It’s the choice of the senior army command whether or not to simply accept the dangers.”

Maria Zolkina, head of regional safety and battle research on the Kyiv-based Democratic Initiatives Basis, mentioned Mr. Zelensky’s interview “was half political assertion to make the Western companions velocity up these provides.” She mentioned he was additionally most likely trying to mood any excessive hopes in case the counteroffensive “was not as profitable as anticipated.”

However, Ms. Zolkina added, “I’d not exclude that it was an informational trick as Ukraine is attempting to cover its preparations.”

Shashank Joshi, protection editor at The Economist, put it extra bluntly: “In fact that is what you’d say if the counteroffensive was about to start,” he wrote on Twitter,

Ms. Zolkina mentioned Kyiv was involved that if the operation fails to ship main good points, there could possibly be stress from some Western companions to barter an finish to the conflict or settle for decreased help.

On Thursday, Britain’s protection secretary, Ben Wallace, advised Parliament that the federal government would supply Ukraine with air-launched cruise missiles that may strike at a spread of as much as 155 miles. The Storm Shadow missile, with a 990-pound explosive warhead, would allow Ukraine to launch highly effective strikes on targets in Crimea, the peninsula that Russia illegally seized in 2014.

“Ukraine has a proper to have the ability to defend itself,” Mr. Wallace mentioned. “Using Storm Shadow will enable Ukraine to push again Russian forces primarily based inside Ukrainian sovereign territory.”

The Biden administration has to this point refused to ship such long-range munitions to Ukraine, cautious of upsetting some type of escalation by Russia. However the conflict has worn down resistance from the White Home, which has agreed to ship subtle weapons that had beforehand appeared off-limits, like Patriot air protection programs and HIMARS rocket launchers.

Ben Hodges, a retired lieutenant normal who was the commanding normal of the U.S. Military in Europe and helps giving Ukraine long-range weapons, mentioned on Twitter that the British cruise missiles would threaten Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, primarily based in Sevastopol, in Crimea. “This can give Ukraine functionality to make Crimea untenable for Russian forces,” he mentioned.

Ukrainian leaders have insisted that they intend to reclaim Crimea, however for now it might matter extra as a staging and provide space for Russian operations in southern Ukraine.

If Mr. Zelensky’s feedback about ready to launch the marketing campaign had been an try at misdirection, it will be in line with an info conflict that has been filled with feints and surprises.

Final fall, the Ukrainian army let or not it’s identified that it was planning a counterattack within the south, which led Russia to maneuver troops to the south, leaving its defenses undermanned within the Kharkiv area within the northeast. The Ukrainian army command then attacked there, as an alternative, shocking the Russians — as nicely of a lot of its personal troops — and recapturing an unlimited swath of territory in a rout.

As lately as 10 weeks in the past, Western weapons deliveries had been nonetheless falling far short of what Ukraine wanted for a counteroffensive, based on labeled U.S. army assessments from February and March.

However two weeks in the past, the highest NATO army commander, Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli of the U.S. Military, mentioned that Ukraine had by that time received 98 percent of the combat vehicles essential to launch the battle.

Even so, Ukrainian officers commonly say they want extra and higher weapons. And in latest days, they’ve sought to handle the expectations of their very own individuals and Western allies, saying that there might not be a single conclusive battle.

“It seems like we’re in a Hollywood film, the place an ideal battle for Center-earth begins, and one battle for Gondor will determine every part,” mentioned Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser, making a reference to “The Lord of the Rings.” “It doesn’t occur like that.”

“It isn’t a matter of 1 week or one month,” he mentioned. “This can be a query of many occasions, as a result of one may be extra profitable, and the opposite, much less profitable.”

Carlotta Gall reported from Kyiv, Shashank Bengali and Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London, and Lara Jakes from Rome. Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting from Kyiv, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Berlin.

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