Zelenskyy says counteroffensive actions under way against Russia

Ukrainian service members near the front line city of Bakhmut. (Photo: Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters)

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has stated that counteroffensive operations against invading Russian forces are underway, but he has deferred to provide additional information.

The Ukrainian leader remarked on Saturday at a news conference in Kyiv while standing alongside visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

He was responding to a query regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin's earlier statement that Ukraine's counteroffensive had begun and that Ukrainian forces had suffered "significant losses."

According to Zelenskyy, counteroffensive and defensive actions are occurring in Ukraine. I will not discuss their current stage or episode."

"I am in daily contact with our commanders of different directions," he added, naming five of Ukraine's most senior military leaders.

Everyone is optimistic. Forward this to Putin."

Top Ukrainian authorities have refrained from announcing a full-fledged counteroffensive, although some Western analysts have speculated as much based on reports of fiercer combat and the use of reserve troops.

In his nocturnal video address, Zelenskyy provided a few specifics while encouraging soldiers to continue the fight.

"Thank you to all those who hold their positions and those who advance," he said, referring to the eastern and southern fronts, where intense fighting is.

Ukraine's general staff reported that its forces had repelled enemy attacks around Bakhmut and Marinka, the scene of intense fighting in the east. It was stated that Russian forces "continue to suffer heavy losses that they are attempting to conceal."

Hanna Maliar, deputy defense minister, made it known via Telegram that the military would not release any statements until the battlefield positions became clear.

"Request yourself... "Am I prepared to hear about the liberation of this or that town not when our troops enter but once they establish a stronghold?" She wrote the text.

Ukraine has stated for months that it intends to launch a major counteroffensive to recapture territory occupied by Russia in the south and east. However, it is enforcing stringent operational silence and denying that the main operation has begun.

Due to the paucity of independent reports from the front lines, it has been difficult to evaluate the state of the conflict.

'Significant' Operations

According to the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence, Ukraine has conducted "significant" operations in several eastern and southern regions over the past 48 hours, breaching Russian defenses in certain locations.

"In certain regions, Ukrainian forces have undoubtedly made significant advances and breached the first line of Russian defenses. In other areas, Ukrainian progress has been sluggish, and the performance of the Russian military has been described as mixed.

"Some [Russian] units are likely conducting credible maneuver defense operations, while others have retreated in some disarray, amidst rising reports of Russian casualties as they withdraw through their minefields," the report states.

Ukraine's counteroffensive is anticipated to utilize thousands of Western-trained and -equipped troops, but Russia has constructed massive fortifications in occupied territory in preparation, and Kyiv lacks aviation superiority.

Patrick Bury, a defense and security expert from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, told Al Jazeera that the counteroffensive would likely be a "long game" and that its initial operations would "likely be the bloodiest for the Ukrainians."

"It's extremely unlikely that we'll see a rapid breakthrough similar to what we saw in Kharkiv in September, for example, where the Ukrainians, with the assistance of allied intelligence, were able to identify areas where there were just exhausted and ruined Russian units and drove past them and continued. "It will not be like that," he said.

"The Russians have had months to prepare major offensives, which primarily consist of defensive positions with trenches, bunkers, and minefields designed to funnel attackers into killing zones."

The Ukrainians were anticipated to suffer "many casualties" during the assault.

"It's much easier to defend when you know the terrain and the plan," Bury said. "You know, 'I'm going to hold this position until they reach here, and then I'll fall back to here, and then that other position will support me.'"

"It is substantially easier for defenders, as the Ukrainians discovered last year when defending. It is significantly more challenging for the assailants," he added. "Yes, you have some intelligence preparation, but you don't know exactly where everything is; it's all new to you, the terrain, and you're being fired upon, etc., as you try to advance; therefore, it is much more difficult for them."

A Ukrainian offensive in the south could seek to recapture Europe's largest nuclear power plant and sever the Russian land bridge to the occupied Black Sea peninsula, thereby dividing the Russian military.

Tuesday's destruction of the Russian-controlled Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River has brought renewed attention to the conflict in the region.

The breached dam's flooding has forced thousands to abandon their homes, prompting fears of humanitarian and environmental catastrophes. Ukraine claims that Russia destroyed the dam. Moscow claims Kyiv fired upon it.

Trudeau, the first foreign leader to visit Ukraine after the dam collapse, provided financial, military, and moral support.

He pledged 500 million Canadian dollars ($375 million) in new military aid, in addition to the more than 8 billion Canadian dollars ($6 billion) that Canada has already provided since the conflict began in February 2022, and he announced 10 million Canadian dollars ($7.5 million) in humanitarian assistance for the response to the flooding.

Trudeau stated that the dam's collapse was "a direct consequence of Russia's war," but he did not explicitly blame Moscow.

In other news, the British government announced it would provide $20 million in humanitarian assistance to those affected by the flooding.

Most funds are distributed through international organizations like the Red Cross and the United Nations. The United Kingdom also provides Ukraine with watercraft, community water filters, water pumps, and waders.

On Saturday, Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, stated that he wants to continue speaking with Vladimir Putin and intends to do so "soon."

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Scholz has spoken with Putin on the telephone multiple times.

According to the chancellor, the premise for a "fair peace" between Russia and Ukraine is the withdrawal of Russian troops.

"This must be comprehended," he stated.

Publish : 2023-06-11 17:22:00

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