Ukraine’s widely touted counteroffensive against Russia, now in its third week, has produced heavy casualties on both sides and what military analysts say have been “small advances” for Ukraine on the battlefield.
In what may emerge as the critical clash of the now 16-month war, Russian forces that performed miserably in the early battles have been able to fight back and are conducting “relatively effective” defensive operations, British military intelligence analysts said this week.
On Tuesday, Pentagon officials insisted they always knew the mission to push Russia out of Ukraine would not be a complete rout, with Russian forces able to prepare extensive defensive formations in occupied Ukrainian land in the east and the south over the winter and spring months in anticipation of the Ukrainian attack.
It’s still early, but Ukraine’s military has been unable so far to match the lightning gains made last fall in which Krhakhiv and other major cities were liberated from Russian control.
“It has become more of a grinding battle every day. We know this is going to be a hard fight [and] we know this is going to take time,” deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters. Ukrainian forces “have the combat power [and] they have the ability to be successful in their counteroffensive operation.”
Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been clear-eyed about the difficulties ahead in driving dug-in Russian troops out of their country. She said Moscow will not easily give up their positions and it’s necessary for all Ukrainians to prepare for the tough fight ahead.
“It is quite difficult for our defenders to advance because the enemy threw all their forces to stop the offensive,” Ms. Maliar said on her Telegram social messaging page. “The ongoing operation has several tasks and the military is carrying out these tasks. They move as they were supposed to move and the biggest blow is yet to come.”
Mr. Zelenskyy emphasized the positive Tuesday, saying Ukrainian forces had “no lost positions” since they began the attack and had captured a number of villages along the front from Russia
“In some areas, our warriors are moving forward. In some areas, they are defending their positions and resisting the occupiers’ assaults and intensified attacks,” Mr. Zelenskyy said Tuesday in an address to the nation. “We have no lost positions — only liberated ones.”
He said Ukraine is grateful for the weapons they’ve received from NATO countries, singling out the British Storm Shadow long-range missiles that he said are doing “a very useful and accurate job at the front.”
Warning from Russia
On Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accused Ukraine of preparing to launch Storm Shadow and U.S.-provided HIMARS missiles at targets in Crimea, a region the Kremlin unilaterally annexed in 2014 and now claims to be part of the Russian Federation.
“The use of these missiles outside the zone of the ‘Special Military Operation’ will mean full-fledged involvement of the United States and Great Britain in the conflict and will entail immediate strikes on decision-making centers on the territory of Ukraine,” Mr. Shoigu said, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.
The U.S. and other Western governments reject Russia’s claims in Crimea, regardless of Moscow’s opinion on the matter. “We support [Ukraine’s] efforts to retake their sovereign territory,” Ms. Singh said.
In a likely bid to deflect Ukraine’s attacking forces, Russia launched another extensive salvo of drones and missiles targeting Kyiv, Lviv and other Ukrainian cities far from the front lines. Ukrainian officials told the Associated Press that nearly all of the 35 drones targeting the capital had been blocked by anti-missile systems.
Pro-separatist Vladimir Rogov lives in Ukraine’s Zaporozhye Oblast and has thrown his support to Moscow as a member of the local government. He is considered an enemy collaborator by Kyiv but seemed almost giddy about how the highly touted Ukrainian offensive is playing out so far.
“The enemy did not make powerful attacks. It is obvious that the ‘counterattack’ cost him dearly and he is licking his wound,” Mr. Rogov noted on his Telegram page. “By the end of the day, our units managed to dislodge the enemy from all previously-occupied positions.”
Valerii Zalushnyi, commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, said Moscow is throwing everything into the mix in a failed attempt to stall the advance, creating a maze of dense fortifications and heavy use of minefields. Many of Ukraine’s best troops have yet to been deployed in the fight, and analysts say the early attacks could be probes to test the strength of Russia’s defenses along a more than 600-mile front in eastern and southern Ukraine.
There has been no sign that Kyiv is ready to write off its attack.
“Despite the furious resistance of the occupiers, our soldiers are doing everything possible to liberate Ukrainian territory. The operation continues as planned,” General Zalushnyi said Tuesday.
Even as the fighting continues on the battlefield, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday was in London to start planning for what happens after the fighting stops. He said Kyiv will need help to rebuild so much of what has been destroyed by Russian aggression.
“We will be focused mainly on the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine,” Mr. Kuleba said, standing next to U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. “It’s not enough just to have a plan of recovery, it’s crucial to have a mechanism underpinning this plan.”
Secretary Blinken, fresh from a diplomatic visit to Beijing, said more than 50 countries and leading private sector businesses were taking part in the London reconstruction conference in support of Ukraine “to make sure it emerges from this aggression not only successful on the battlefield but also successful in having a strong economy integrated with Europe.”
At the London conference, European Union officials announced plans for a $50 billion EU reconstruction aid package for Ukraine and that it was doubling the number of Ukrainian troops who would be trained by EU allies to 30,000 this year, the AP reported
— This article was based in part on wire service reports.
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