Far away from the front lines in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin met recently with Russian war correspondents and military bloggers in the Kremlin.
Putin blamed the Ukrainians for starting the war and accused the US of provoking this international security crisis. He boasted of territorial gains, heavy Ukrainian losses and a successful Russian military recruitment campaign.
But so far, the situation on the ground tells a different story. Ukraine’s counteroffensive appears to be off to a good start, even though it’s early days.
“Russia is becoming aware that it is losing the war,” said Kurt Volker, the former US special representative for Ukraine negotiations, and a fellow at CEPA, the Center for European Policy Analysis.
“They are not able to advance on the ground, they exhausted themselves in the last-ditch effort at Bakhmut, they have resorted to just shelling Ukrainian cities, because they’re not able to do much else.”
Volker said the Ukrainians have started sending capable, well-equipped units into the fight.
But the recent destruction of the Kakhovka Dam in southern Ukraine has implications on the battlefield.
“In those parts which are now flooded, the maneuverability of our armed forces is limited, and it’s obvious, but at the same time this is not something that will take us off balance and make us change our major plan which is to de-occupy all of Ukraine,” said Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of defense.
Sak laid the blame squarely on Russia for causing the largest eco-disaster in recent European history. He said Ukraine’s priority in the areas affected by flooding are now largely humanitarian.
“You need weather conditions to carry out certain military operations, plus right now, of course, when it comes to those regions, we are focused on first of all saving lives of people, evacuating people, making sure they have drinking water, making sure they have shelter, so that is what is happening there right now,” he said.
In other areas, including the Donetsk and Zaporizhia regions, Sak said he is confident in Ukraine’s military capabilities.
But this counteroffensive will not be easy.
“We have to understand that Russians have had a long time to dig in, they’ve built very, very strongly fortified multilayered defense systems. We will not say that this is an easy fight, but at the same time, we can say that we are determined to continue our battle and inch by inch, we will be liberating our land.”
Saks said that Ukraine will suffer losses.
Over the last week, there have also been reports of some Western-provided equipment, like Leopard tanks and Bradley armored vehicles, that were lost or damaged in the field.
Sak expressed gratitude for support from Ukrainian partners, something that Ukrainian officials often repeat because it’s a big part of what is making this counteroffensive possible.
“It’s a David-against-Goliath scenario,” he said. “So, we know that we are weaker, smaller, and have less ammunition to spare, but at the same time, we are smarter, we are more organized, we are more determined, and this is our major advantage, and this gives us an upper hand.”
This is just the start of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. It still has many Western-trained and equipped units that have yet to be deployed, for what’s likely to be months of heavy fighting.
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