Volodymyr Zelenskiy has conceded that Ukraine’s counteroffensive may be going “slower than desired” but has insisted that he will not needlessly risk soldiers’ lives to meet international expectations.
The comments from Ukraine’s president came as Vladimir Putin suggested that there appeared to have been a break in the intensity of Kyiv’s long-anticipated counteroffensive.
“Oddly enough, at the moment we are seeing a certain lull,” Putin said. “This is due to the fact that the enemy is suffering serious losses, both in personnel and equipment.”
Putin further announced that new Sarmat nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles would soon enter service. The missiles are designed to carry out nuclear strikes on targets thousands of miles away but their deployment has proceeded slower than planned.
Ukraine has announced the liberation of only eight villages as a result of its two weeks of offensive operations with heavy mining and Russian air superiority proving to be a major obstacle to progress.
Ukrainian forces are also having to face down Russian assaults around Kreminna, in the eastern Luhansk region, and in the Serebryansky forest, north of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.
The attacks directed by Moscow, at a time when Ukraine is seeking to make progress further south, has forced Ukrainian generals to move their own troops to fill the gaps, according to military sources.
Ukrainian forces are still yet to commit all their reserves to battle, however.
Ukraine’s military command created 12 brigades for the counteroffensive, of which nine have been equipped by western powers, but it is believed that only three have been moved to the front.
Speaking to the BBC, Ukraine’s president said he would not command his army to make ground purely to sate western demand for progress on the front.
Zelenskiy, who was speaking to mark a Ukraine Recovery conference in London, said: “Some people believe this is a Hollywood movie and expect results now. It’s not. What’s at stake is people’s lives. Whatever some might want, including attempts to pressure us, with all due respect, we will advance on the battlefield the way we deem best.”
Hanna Maliar, a Ukrainian deputy defence minister, said Ukraine was fighting off a “large-scale offensive of Russian troops in the Lyman and Bakhmut directions”, in the eastern Donetsk region.
She added: “Near Bakhmut, the situation is unchanged, several combat clashes take place every day, the line is stable. In general, in the east, our troops are firmly holding their positions, repelling constant enemy attacks and inflicting maximum losses on the occupier.”
Putin had also conceded in his comments on Wednesday that Ukraine “has not yet been exhausted, there are also reserves that the enemy is thinking about where and how to introduce”.
The Wagner group chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose forces for months led an assault for towns in eastern Ukraine including Bakhmut, repeated his accusations that the Russian defence ministry was losing territory to Ukrainian troops.
“They are misleading the Russian people,” he said in an audio message released by his spokespeople.
“Huge chunks have been handed over to the enemy,” he said, adding: “All of this is being totally hidden from everyone.”
In Russia, authorities claimed that two Ukrainian drones crashed 30 miles outside Moscow as they were approaching the warehouses of a local military unit. Russian media reported on Wednesday that the wreckage of a third drone was found further away from the Russian capital.
The defence ministry in Moscow claimed the drones were brought down using radio-electronic means and that no damage or casualties had been reported. “An attempt today by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack by three aircraft-type unmanned aerial vehicles on facilities in the Moscow region was thwarted,” the ministry said.