Ukrainian offensive to start in days, Defence Secretary says

'We are ready' says Kostiantyn Vashchenko at Bratislava conference

Ukrainian police inspect a rocket fragment after a Russian attack in Kyiv. AP Photo
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Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive against Russia will start in “several days,” State Secretary for Defence Kostiantyn Vashchenko said on Monday at a security conference in Slovakia.

“We are ready for that,” he said during a panel at Bratislava’s GlobSec conference. “Now we have finished all preparation and we are really ready to go ahead.”

Mr Vashchenko said he was not part of the select few high-ranking Ukrainian officials who knew the exact date of the counter-offensive’s launch, but he said he strongly believed it would start in the “nearest future.”

“Nobody knows when the offensive will start, maybe three people know,” he said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this month delayed the counter-offensive, which has been discussed by observers for months, saying his country needed more time to prepare before trying to reclaim territory taken by Russia.

Mr Vashchenko said that Russia fired 12 ballistic and cruise missiles on Kyiv on Monday morning, in a rare daytime attack on the capital.

He also said that 37 cruise missiles and 29 Iranian-made Shahed drones were shot down by Ukraine’s air defence on Sunday night.

“I assess it as a fear of Russians before our offensive,” he said.

Ukrainian authorities announced that two people were killed and eight wounded in the eastern region of Donetsk.

Mr Vashchenko described the ongoing discussions about the attack as a form of psychological warfare against Russia.

“We see our enemies are very nervous,” he said. “Waiting for death is worse than death.”

He declined to give more details about the counter-offensive but fellow panellist Jaroslav Nad’, who was Slovakia’s defence minister until the country's interim government resigned on May 7, said he expected that Ukraine would lead “not only one single counter-offensive, but probably a round of offensives.”

“Now it’s up to Ukraine’s leadership, up to their military, to say what they want,” said Mr Nad’, “and I’m sure as many countries in the world will help as much as they can.”

He said he believed that Ukraine’s first goal should be to regain control of Crimea, a region of Ukraine occupied by Russia since 2014.

Nato’s former supreme allied commander Europe Philip Breedlove said there are expectations that Ukraine may cut Crimea’s Kerch bridge to make Russia's position “untenable.”

The longest bridge in Europe was damaged by explosions in October that were widely believed to be linked to Ukraine, but Kyiv denied it was responsible.

“If you cut the Kerch bridge, if you cut the water supply on the north side of Crimea, and if you cut the land bridge along the coast below Mariupol, then you can just bring Crimea under fire,” he said.

Russia also unilaterally declared its annexation of the four regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia in September last year.

Ukrainian officials say they hope to reclaim all Russian-occupied territories.

Mr Vashchenko said he believed that it would be easier for Ukraine to retake Crimea than the other annexed regions.

In contrast to the occupied regions in Eastern Ukraine, there was no war in Crimea, meaning the population would be less hostile to Ukrainian forces, he said.

“Because there were a lot of victims in Donbas after Russia’s aggression, it could make some people aggressive to Ukraine, because some neighbours were killed, some family members went to war and were killed,” he said.

“That’s why emotionally in Donbas, it’s a harder situation than in Crimea.”

Updated: May 29, 2023, 9:41 PM