Russian forces doing utmost to stop Ukraine’s counteroffensive, Zelenskiy says

Kyiv has made only small gains since launch of kickback campaign in June and, in recent weeks, appears stalled in some areas

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian forces were throwing “everything they can” at Kyiv’s troops fighting to retake land in the south and east, again emphasising the grueling nature of a counteroffensive that is moving more slowly than some allies had hoped and later stressing the importance of their continued support.

Ukrainian troops have made only small gains since launching the widely anticipated campaign in June and, in recent weeks, they appear to have stalled in some areas in the face of staunch Russian defences. Casualties are mounting and US officials have said Ukraine has also lost newly provided western armored vehicles in field after field of land mines.

Mr Zelenskyy, who has defended the pace of the counteroffensive, said in his overnight address late Friday that he had had a “detailed” meeting earlier in the day with his top commanders to discuss the front lines and “logistics” – including weapons and the “rational use of shells, supplies from partners” an apparent reference to the rate at which Ukraine’s forces are expending ammunition.

“We must all understand very clearly – as clearly as possible – that the Russian forces on our southern and eastern lands are investing everything they can to stop our warriors,” he said. “Every thousand metres of advance, every success of each of our combat brigades deserves gratitude.”


Mr Zelenskiy has repeatedly pressed his western allies for increasingly sophisticated weapons, and he secured new pledges this week from allies at the Nato summit in Lithuania, including long-range missiles from France and more tank ammunition from Germany. But it was not immediately clear how soon those weapons would arrive, or how significant a boost they could provide for the counteroffensive.

One ally that has resisted sending weapons to Ukraine is South Korea, whose president, Yoon Suk Yeol, arrived in Ukraine on Saturday for an unannounced visit. In a statement after his meeting with the South Korean leader, Mr Zelenskiy made no mention of whether they had discussed lethal military assistance.

But he later acknowledged the diplomatic blitz of the past week, listing all the allies he’d met and saying in a Twitter post that he was “grateful” to “every leader, every politician, public figure, every country who really supports” Ukraine.

Mr Zelenskiy’s choice of words bore particular resonance, coming just days after some allies suggested he demonstrate more gratitude for the billions in military assistance already offered.

“When the speed of ending the war directly depends on global support for Ukraine, we are doing everything possible to ensure that such support is as intensive and meaningful as possible,” he said on Saturday evening.

The US has acknowledged that Ukrainian forces are running low on ammunition, which was one reason that President Joe Biden agreed last week over the objections of allies to send cluster munitions. The weapons are highly dangerous for civilians and are outlawed by all but a few countries, including the United States, Russia and Ukraine.

While cluster munitions have started arriving in Ukraine, US officials and military analysts have warned that they probably will not be an immediate help.

Ukraine’s top commander, Gen Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, told The Washington Post that his military was still lacking the necessary resources to defeat Russia and criticised allies who have argued that it does not need F16s.

The defence ministers of Denmark and the Netherlands announced this past week that they had gathered 11 countries to help train Ukrainian pilots on F16 fighter jets as soon as next month. Mr Biden agreed in May to drop his objections to giving Ukraine F16s, though that may not happen until next year.

Ukraine has also been asking the US for long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, which have a range of about 190 miles – about 40 miles more than missiles France and Britain are providing. US and European officials have said that the Biden administration, after months of maintaining it would not provide the weapons for fear of further provoking Russia, is considering whether to send a few to Ukraine.

While Mr Yoon’s visit to Ukraine did not appear to have changed Seoul’s stance on weapons, the trip was a notable show of support.

Seoul, which is reluctant to openly antagonise Moscow, has declined to send lethal aid and has imposed strict export control rules on its global weapons sales. It has also provided humanitarian aid and financial support to Ukraine for mine removal, power grid restoration and reconstruction projects.

However, Mr Yoon has indicated that Seoul might be willing to consider sending Ukraine military aid in the event of a large-scale attack on civilians.

He visited the towns of Bucha and Irpin – which became synonymous with Russian atrocities in the earliest days of the invasion – on arrival on Saturday, Mr Yoon’s office said, and then met with Mr Zelenskiy.

After the meeting, Mr Zelenskyy said he was “grateful” to Mr Yoon for supporting Ukraine’s efforts for peace and security – along with “new initiatives of financial, technical and humanitarian support”.

In the meantime, Ukraine’s military continued to report fierce fighting in the country’s south and east, saying that Russian forces in southern Ukraine were focused on “preventing the further advance” of Kyiv’s troops fighting in the direction of two key Russian-occupied cities, Melitopol and Berdiansk.

Russian shelling killed one man and injured another in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, the regional military administration said in a statement.

A monitoring group in Belarus that tracks troop movements said on Twitter that a large convoy carrying fighters from the Wagner private army was seen entering Belarus from Russia early on Saturday. The column included at least 60 vehicles, among them 10 trucks and three buses. It appeared to be headed toward a town about 55 miles south of the capital, Minsk, where Ukrainian television has reported Wagner mercenaries have been training conscripts at a camp, according to the group, Belarusian Hajun Project. The report could not be independently confirmed.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s border service said that “available information shows” some fighters with the Wagner mercenary group had “been observed in Belarus”. Questions about the fighters’ future have swirled since a deal to end their mutiny in Russia last month included an arrangement for voluntary exile in Belarus.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, told President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa in a phone call, two days before a UN-brokered agreement that enables Ukraine to export its grain is set to expire, that commitments to Moscow set out by the deal remained “unfulfilled”, the Kremlin said. Russia has repeatedly threatened to pull out of the deal, complaining that western sanctions have restricted the sale of its agricultural products.

The conversation comes as South Africa grapples with Mr Putin’s possible attendance at a summit in Johannesburg. Mr Putin faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court and, as a member of the court, South Africa is obliged to arrest him if he enters.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.