Ukraine 'ready to launch counter-offensive' against Russia, Zelenskyy says

Hundreds of Ukrainian volunteers are being taken through fast-track military training in the UK

Ukrainian soldiers take part in military exercises in the Kharkiv region. AFP
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Ukraine is ready to begin its anticipated counter-offensive against Russia, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

Speaking in the southern port city of Odesa, he said if his country could not hold out against Russia, “that animal, that beast will develop a taste” for subjugation and go further.

The military operation has been delayed by wet weather that has made the ground too soft for heavy fighting vehicles. But drier conditions in parts of Ukraine have given rise to anticipation that it could be launched soon.

The timing of the counter-offensive has been kept under wraps by the Ukrainian leadership. But now, the President said his country is on the cusp of implementing its fightback strategy.

“We strongly believe that we will succeed,” President Zelenskyy told the Wall Street Journal.

“I don’t know how long it will take. To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different. But we are going to do it, and we are ready.”

Britain has played a major role in training and equipping Ukrainian troops and volunteer servicemen and women for the focal counter-offensive. The British Army is conducting a five-week training blitz in Yorkshire, where hundreds of volunteer fighters are being given basic training ahead of what looks set to be one of the bloodiest phases of the 15-month war.

A British soldier, right, and Ukrainians take part in urban combat exercises at a military base in Northern England. AFP

Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Volodymyr Harylov on Saturday said plans for the counter-offensive remain on track, despite an "unprecedented" wave of missile and drone attacks across the country in recent weeks.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia's top security conference, he said Ukraine had faced repeated volleys of ballistic missiles from Russia in May, especially in urban centres including Kyiv.

"Their primary goal is to stop our counter-offensive and target decision-making centres," he said.

Mr Havrylov called Moscow's use of the missiles a "last strategic resort" and said his country's air defence systems had been "more than 90 per cent effective" against the attacks.

For Russia "it was a huge surprise to find that the effectiveness of [their ballistic missiles] was almost zero against modern air defence systems, which we received from our partners," he said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak last week said preliminary operations had started to pave the way for the counter-offensive, including “destroying supply lines or blowing up depots behind the lines.|”

Mr Zelenskyy acknowledged on Friday that Ukraine would not be able to join Nato before the end of the war with Russia.

“We are reasonable people and we understand that we are not going to drag a single Nato country into a war,” Mr Zelenskyy said during a briefing alongside Estonian President Alar Karis.

“Therefore, we understand that we will not be members of Nato while this war is going on. Not because we don't want to, but because it's impossible,” he added.

Ukraine is a candidate to join both the trans-Atlantic military alliance and the EU but some European capitals are wary of setting a formal timeline for membership while Russia's invasion continues.

Becoming a member of Nato would open the door for Ukraine to be covered by the alliance's Article 5 collective defence clause. This obliges all members to come to the defence of a fellow signatory if it is attacked.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of its neighbour in February 2022, Mr Zelenskyy has intensified pressure on Nato and the EU to admit Ukraine.

Earlier this week he told European leaders at a summit in Moldova that any doubts they had before allowing Kyiv into Nato will embolden Moscow to attack more countries.

One option being considered is major powers offering Ukraine bilateral security assurances in the years before it becomes a full Nato membership is granted.

Ukraine and Russia conflict latest – in pictures

Updated: June 03, 2023, 2:04 PM