- Zelenskiy says more armoured vehicles would reduce casualties
- Kyiv says Russian forces pushed back up to 2 km near Bakhmut
- Kremlin acknowledges situation ‘very difficult’
- Fuel depot hit in Russian region near border
May 11 (Reuters) – Ukraine is holding fire until more Western armoured vehicles arrive before it starts its long-awaited counteroffensive to recapture Russian-occupied territory, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview released on Thursday.
“We still need a bit more time,” Zelenskiy said in the interview with European broadcasters, according to Britain’s BBC.
Ukrainian forces had already received enough equipment from Western allies for a campaign, but some of the promised armoured vehicles were still arriving. Waiting a bit longer for them would reduce casualties, he said.
“With [what we have] we can go forward and be successful,” he said. “But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable.”
The war in Ukraine is at a turning point, with Kyiv poised to unleash its new counterstrike after six months of keeping its forces on the defensive, while Russia mounted a huge winter offensive that failed to capture significant territory.
Western allies are sending hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles to Ukraine for its counteroffensive and have trained thousands of Ukrainian troops abroad.
Moscow’s main target for months has been the small eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which it has come close to capturing but not quite taken in what would be its sole prize after months of the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two.
In recent days Ukraine has claimed successes on the city’s outskirts. Both a Ukrainian unit and the leader of Russia’s Wagner private army say a Russian brigade fled its positions on Tuesday, giving up a swathe of land southwest of Bakhmut.
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces said on Wednesday that Russian forces had retreated in places by as much as 2 km at the front line.
The Russian defence ministry has not commented on those reports but in remarks overnight Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged that the war was “very difficult”. He said he had no doubt that Bakhmut “will be captured and will be kept under control”.
In anticipation of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russia has resumed air strikes on Ukraine over the past two weeks after a lull of nearly two months. Moscow says Ukraine has used drones to strike occupied areas and Russian territory near the border.
In the latest report, the governor of Russia’s Bryansk region bordering Ukraine said a drone had hit a fuel storate depot. No one was hurt. Kyiv does not comment on such incidents.
Britain confirmed it has supplied Ukraine with Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles.
CNN first reported the decision and said Britain had received assurances from the Ukrainian government that these missiles would be used only within Ukrainian sovereign territory and not inside Russia.
Some Ukrainian officials have tried to manage expectations for their counteroffensive, cautioning against expecting a swift repeat of Ukraine’s big military successes last year, when it pushed Russian forces back from Kyiv’s outskirts and recaptured swathes of occupied territory in unexpected breakthroughs.
Russia is determined to defend the sixth of Ukraine’s territory that it has occupied and claims to have annexed forever. In the six months since the last major Ukrainian advance it has built extensive fortifications along the front. Penetrating that with an armoured assault would be far more complicated than anything Ukraine’s forces have attempted yet.
In Brussels, NATO’s top military official said the war would increasingly be a battle between large numbers of poorly trained Russian troops with outdated equipment, and a smaller Ukrainian force with better Western weapons and training.
Admiral Rob Bauer, a Dutch officer who is chair of NATO’s military committee, said Russia was deploying T-54 tanks – an old model designed in the years after World War Two.