Ukraine is ready to launch its heavily trailed counter-offensive against occupying Russian forces, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But he warned that defeating the Russian military would take time and come with a heavy cost because Russia’s air force maintains superiority around the frontlines.
“I don’t know how long it will take,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “But we are going to do it and we are ready.”
Ukraine’s military has been preparing for months for a counter-attack that it hopes could be decisive in its fight against Russia. Its commanders have had to wait for more sophisticated weapons to arrive from the West and also for the wet spring weather to pass, allowing the ground to dry out enough to enable tank manoeuvres.
Ukraine destroys command centres
Last month, Britain handed Ukraine Storm Shadow missiles, which tripled its reach. Since then, Ukraine has destroyed command centres and supply depots deep behind Russia’s frontlines.
Ben Wallace, UK Defence Minister, warned this week that the West was running short of capacity to supply Ukraine with artillery shells and other ammunition but Mr Zelensky still used the interview to push for more kit.
“We would like to have certain things but we can’t wait for months,” he said. Ukraine’s Western allies have promised to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets but these are not expected to enter battle for several months.
Although Russian soldiers are demoralised and battered after 15 months of war, Western intelligence services have said that Russian forces may still be able to defend a vast network of trenches and minefields across a 600-mile frontline.
‘Kremlin increasingly worried’
Even so, Volodymyr Harylov, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, said that the Kremlin is increasingly worried about the Ukrainian counter-offensive and has been trying to derail it through intensified missile strikes over the past month.
“Their primary goal is to stop our counter-offensive and target decision-making centres,” he said on the sidelines of an Asian security conference, the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore.
Mr Harylov also mocked the Kremlin for underestimating the effectiveness of the Patriot air-defence system that the US has given Ukraine and the impact of the British Storm Shadow missiles, which he said had so far never missed their target.
“It was a huge surprise to them to find that the effectiveness of [their ballistic missiles] was almost zero against modern air-defence systems,” he said.