The start of Ukraine’s long-awaited spring offensive has been delayed so that Ukraine can receive more Western weaponry, the country’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has told reporters.
In an interview with the BBC and other public service broadcasters, Zelensky said Ukrainian casualties would be too high if the offensive began without the weapons systems Ukraine expects to receive.
“With [what we already have] we can go forward, and, I think, be successful,” Zelensky said on Thursday, according to the BBC. “But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable. So, we need to wait. We still need a bit more time.”
Ukraine has long said it needs long-range rocket artillery to strike Russian targets far behind the front lines. Even though The United States continues to refuse to give the Ukrainians Army Tactical Missile System rockets, or ATACMS, the British are providing Ukraine with Storm Shadow cruise missiles, with a range of more than 155 miles.
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The Ukrainians are also receiving German-made Leopard 2 tanks as well as British Challenger 2 tanks to augment their fleet of Soviet-era armor and captured Russian tanks. Ukrainian troops are expected to begin training on 31 American M1 Abrams in Germany in the next two to three weeks, according to the Associated Press.
For the coming offensive the Ukrainians need their Western allies to accelerate the delivery of German and British tanks along with armored personnel carriers, said retired Marine Col. J.D. Williams, a defense policy researcher with the RAND Corporation.
Ukraine’s most pressing need right now is more ammunition following months of fighting for the city of Bakhmut, Williams told Task & Purpose.
“The Russians really preempted them with their offensive around Bakhmut, and the Ukrainians chose to make that a major fight,” Williams said. “So, by all reports, that’s been pretty intensive, and they’ve depleted their stocks of ammunition in that operation, which is then going to delay and/or limit their ability to have their offensive.”
On Tuesday, the Defense Department announced it is providing Ukraine with more 155 mm artillery shells, air defense systems, and counter-drone systems as part of its latest military assistance package to the country.
Zelensky’s comments about the offensive being delayed came amid a flurry of activity from Russian military bloggers on Thursday, who wrote on Telegram that the Ukrainians had broken through the front lines in several places, indicating that the offensive may have already started, Reuters reported. Russia’s defense ministry said the bloggers’ accounts of Ukrainian military successes were not true.
When asked about the timing of Ukraine’s upcoming offensive, U.S. government officials have stressed that Ukraine is a sovereign country that is responsible for its own strategic decisions.
“As for President Zelensky’s comments: He’s the commander in chief; he gets to decide – and only he gets to decide – if and when he wants to go on the offense, where he’s going to do that, with what units, and how he’s going to execute that,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday.
Right now, the U.S. government is focused on making sure the Ukrainians have the resources they need for whenever they decide to go on the attack, Kirby said.
However, the Ukrainian offensive might already be underway despite what Zelensky told reporters on Thursday, said Luke Coffey, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, D.C.
To Coffey, it would make no sense for Zelensky to publicly inform the Russians that his country is not yet ready to launch an offensive – giving them more time to prepare for the attack – and that the Ukrainians still lack vital weapons.
“I think that Zelensky saying ‘No, we’re waiting for more stuff to arrive;’ I think this might be a disinformation ploy,” Coffey told Task & Purpose. “Only President Zelensky and those around him really know what’s going on.”
Likely, the Ukrainians will not officially announce the offensive has begun until they start making significant progress, Coffey said.
Coffey also said that Ukrainian forces’ recent advances near Bakhmut may turn out to be a feint to distract the Russians from the real attack, said Coffey, who added that he thinks the actual offensive will involve moving forces toward Melitopol to cut Russia’s land bridge with Crimea.
“From a Russian point of view, it must be a very confusing situation,” Coffey said, “And I think that’s exactly what the Ukrainians want.”
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