Zelensky says the counterattack has yet to begin, despite Kiev’s gains at the front

  • Britain sends cruise missiles to enhance firing range in Ukraine
  • Zelensky says that more armored vehicles will reduce the number of casualties
  • Kiev says that the Russian forces retreated to a distance of two kilometers near Bakhmut
  • The Kremlin acknowledges that the situation is very difficult
  • A fuel depot was hit in a Russian region near the border

May 11 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia’s invading forces has yet to begin, President Volodymyr Zelensky says, even as his generals claim some of their biggest battlefield successes in months.

Kiev says that it has pushed the Russian forces back over the past few days near the eastern city of Bakhmut in local attacks, while it is still preparing for a comprehensive counterattack involving tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of Western tanks.

“We still need more time,” Zelensky said in an interview with European broadcasters.

Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had already received enough equipment from Western allies for their campaign but were waiting for the full array of armored vehicles to arrive to minimize casualties.

In a major step in Western military support to Ukraine, Britain has announced that it will send Storm Shadow cruise missiles that will give Kiev the ability to strike targets deep behind Russian lines.

“The key here is to give Ukraine that capacity . to defend itself,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told parliament in London.

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Western countries, including the United States, have previously refrained from providing long-range weapons for fear of provoking Russian retaliation. Wallace said Britain had weighed the risks.

The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point, as Kiev prepares to launch its new counter-offensive after six months of keeping its forces on the defensive, while Russia launches a massive winter offensive that failed to capture significant territory.

Moscow’s main target for months has been Bakhmut, which it has yet to fully capture despite Europe’s bloodiest ground battles since World War II.

The commander of Wagner’s Russian Private Army, who led the fighting at Bakhmut, acknowledged Ukrainian gains against regular Russian forces on the outskirts of the city for several days, while complaining about the lack of support for his men.

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said on social media Thursday that the Ukrainian operations were “unfortunately partly successful,” calling Zelensky’s assertion that the counterattack had not yet begun “disingenuous”.

On Tuesday, Prigozhin said a Russian battalion had escaped from the trenches and abandoned a plot of land southwest of Bakhmut. A Ukrainian unit claimed to have defeated the brigade and destroyed two of its companies.

The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces said on Wednesday that Russian forces had retreated in some places by up to two kilometres. Ukraine has boasted little of the same progress since its last major offensive last November.

The Russian army did not admit the setback. In its regular daily statement on Thursday, the Defense Ministry said that Russian forces are continuing their offensive on the western part of Bakhmut, with paratroopers pinning down Ukrainian army units on the flanks.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged the war had been “very difficult”. He said that he had no doubts that Bakhmut “will be captured and kept under control.”

Reuters could not independently verify the situation on the ground in Bakhmut.

Managing expectations

The Western allies are sending hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles into Ukraine for its counteroffensive and have trained thousands of Ukrainian troops abroad.

In anticipation of the Ukrainian counterattack, 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 regions and Russian lands near the border.

In the latest report, the governor of Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine, said a drone had bombed a fuel storage depot. No one is hurt. Kiev does not comment on such incidents.

Some Ukrainian officials have tried to manage expectations for their counteroffensive, warning against expecting a quick repeat of Ukraine’s major military successes last year, when it drove Russian forces from the outskirts of Kiev and recaptured swathes of occupied territory in unexpected breakthroughs.

Russia is determined to defend the sixth Ukrainian territory it has occupied and claims to annex forever. In the six months that have elapsed since the last major advance into Ukraine, it has built extensive fortifications along the front. Penetrating that with an armored attack would be far more complicated than anything Ukrainian forces have tried to do so far.

Additional reporting by Tom Palmforth, Olena Harmash, Pavel Politiuk, David Leungren and Ron Popeski; Editing by Peter Graff, Alex Richardson, David Gregorio, and Diane Kraft

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