KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in remarks broadcast Thursday that Kyiv is delaying its long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia’s occupying forces because Ukraine lacks enough Western weapons to succeed without suffering too many casualties.
His remarks, in an interview with European broadcasters, were aired shortly before Britain said it has sent Ukraine air-launched cruise missiles that would allow pilots to extend their reach farther than possibly any other weapon in their arsenal, to locations deep behind the front line.
A Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russia’s more than 14-month-old invasion has been expected since warmer weather improved battlefield conditions, and Zelenskyy said it's possible that "we can go forward and be successful,” the BBC reported.
“But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable,” he was quoted as saying in the interview, conducted in Kyiv with public service broadcasters who are members of Eurovision News, including the BBC.
“So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time,” Zelenskyy was quoted as saying. “In terms of equipment, not everything has arrived yet.”
Analysts and Ukrainian officials have talked for months about a coming Ukrainian counterpunch. Zelenskyy’s remarks could be designed to keep the Russians guessing, with more uncertainty because both sides are struggling to secure enough ammunition.
Ukraine's troops are receiving Western training, as well as advanced weapons, as it gears up for such an assault.
Later Thursday, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told lawmakers it sent Ukraine the Storm Shadow missiles, a conventionally armed weapon with a range of more than 250 kilometers (150 miles). By contrast, the truck-mounted HIMARS launchers that Washington has supplied feature GPS-guided missiles capable of hitting targets up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.
Wallace said the cruise missiles “are now going into or are in the country itself,” but didn’t say how many were provided.
The air-launched missiles would allow Ukrainian forces to target locations such as Russia-occupied Crimea. Kyiv has pledged not to use them to attack Russia itself, U.K. media reported. The U.S. and its allies have expressed concern that enabling Ukraine to use their weapons to hit targets inside Russia could provoke the Kremlin to escalate the war.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, tweeted: “Well done UK!”
“This will give Ukraine capability to make Crimea untenable for Russian forces” and require Russia to reevaluate the positioning of its Black Sea fleet, Hodges said.
Sidharth Kaushal, a research fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, said the Storm Shadow missiles could allow Ukraine to strike Russian vessels in its Black Sea headquarters port of Sevastopol, from which Moscow's Kalibr missiles "have been used to target crucial Ukrainian infrastructure.”
Patrick Bury, senior lecturer in security at the University of Bath, wasn’t surprised at Zelenskyy's comments about delaying the spring campaign.
“If you are Zelenskyy, you are doing everything you can to make sure you get everything you need” before launching the offensive, he said.
“On the other hand, I would not be surprised at all if it started in the next couple of weeks, depending on the mud. ... As of last week it was still one of the wettest springs they’ve had over there in years. … It’s just not favorable,” Bury added.
A Ukrainian military claim Wednesday that its troops had advanced up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) around the hotly contested eastern city of Bakhmut fueled speculation that the counteroffensive was underway.