Ukraine says ‘biggest blow’ yet to come in counteroffensive push

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said Kyiv’s forces and Moscow’s troops are engaged in a ‘tough duel’ and Russia is throwing everything into the battle.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said the “biggest blow” in Kyiv’s counteroffensive campaign against Russian forces has yet to come but admitted the operation is difficult as Moscow is throwing all it can into the battle to prevent Ukraine from pressing forward.

Ukraine began the first stage of its long-rumoured counteroffensive two weeks ago to reclaim land occupied by Russian forces. But amid reports of slow progress by Ukraine’s forces and stiff resistance by Russia, officials in Moscow have claimed the Ukrainian offensive has failed.

The Ukrainian military, which has maintained a strict silence about the campaign in general, announced on Monday that small victories had been achieved and eight villages liberated so far, along with some 113 square km (70 sq miles) of territory.

“The biggest blow is yet to come,” Maliar said on Monday.

“The ongoing operation has several objectives, and the military is fulfilling these tasks,” she wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

“The enemy will not easily give up their positions, and we must prepare ourselves for a tough duel,” she said. “In fact, that is what is happening right now.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said late last week the Ukrainian counteroffensive did not have any meaningful success. But some Russian military bloggers say Kyiv has made small gains at the expense of huge troop and equipment losses.

While it is impossible to independently verify the military operation along the most contentious points of the front line, the Reuters news agency was able to confirm that Ukrainian forces have advanced in the early phase of the counteroffensive.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington DC-based think tank, cited sources on Sunday as saying that Ukrainian forces may be temporarily pausing counteroffensive operations to “reevalute their tactics for future operations”.

ISW also reiterated that the main counteroffensive campaign had yet to start.

“ISW has previously noted that Ukraine has not yet committed the majority of its available forces to counteroffensive operations and has not yet launched its main effort,” the ISW said in its daily situational analysis.

“Operational pauses are a common feature of major offensive undertakings, and this pause does not signify the end of Ukraine’s counteroffensive,” it said.

In his nightly video address, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the military offensive as a “situation of pressure”, but one in which Ukrainian forces had not let the pressure slip from being focused on Russian forces.

“In some areas, our warriors are moving forward, in some areas they are defending their positions and resisting the occupiers’ assaults and intensified attacks,” Zelenskyy said.

“We have no lost positions. Only liberated ones. They have only losses,” he said.

Officials from two NATO member states said Moscow was redeploying some of its forces as it seeks to predict where Ukraine will strike.

United Kingdom and Estonian intelligence officials said that Russia had been moving some forces east along the front line from areas south of the Dnipro River flooded by the destruction of the huge Kakhovka hydroelectric dam on June 6.

Overall the Ukrainian military said its counteroffensive is going according to plan, but at the same time admitted to a “difficult situation” on the front.

In the south of the country, Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi wrote on Telegram on Monday that the Ukrainian advance was hampered by fortifications, dense minefields and a “large number of reserves” but that the operation will remain on schedule.

In a video, he also showed himself with Chief of General Staff Serhiy Shaptala at a command centre near the front. With this, Zaluzhnyi was likely also countering rumours in Russian state media, which has repeatedly claimed that he had been seriously injured in a missile attack in May.