Ukraine facing ‘new phase’ of war with Russia after counteroffensive fell short

Zelenskiy calls for rapid fortification of Ukrainian positions along 1,000km front line

Ukraine failed to meet its objectives with a summer counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion force and now faces a challenging winter in a new phase of their war, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said, while lamenting his military’s losses and weapons shortages and calling for the rapid fortification of its defensive lines.

“We wanted faster results. From that perspective, unfortunately, we did not achieve the desired results,” Mr Zelenskiy said of operations that began in June with the aim of splitting Russian forces in southeastern Ukraine and possibly severing the land link between Russia and Crimea on the Black Sea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

“Look, we are not backing down, I am satisfied. We are fighting with the second [best] army [the Russian army] in the world,” he told the Associated Press, before adding: “We are losing people, I’m not satisfied. We didn’t get all the weapons we wanted, I can’t be satisfied, but I also can’t complain too much.”

Snow and freezing temperatures have already gripped Ukraine, where western-supplied air defence systems are still at a premium as the country braces for a second winter of heavy Russian drone and missile strikes on its power grid and other infrastructure.


“We have a new phase of war… Winter as a whole is a new phase of war,” Mr Zelenskiy said after visiting troops in the eastern Kharkiv region.

He held talks with his military commanders about fortifying Ukrainian positions along the 1,000km front line in eastern and southeastern Ukraine and in northern regions bordering Russia and its ally Belarus, from where attacks have also been launched.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive stalled amid vast minefields and lines of trenches, tank traps, fortified bunkers and other engineering works that Russia’s military prepared after seizing southeastern areas shortly after launching its all-out invasion in February 2022. For more than a year, Western allies did not give Ukraine missiles that could strike the area.

Mr Zelenskiy said Ukraine needed to “boost and accelerate the construction of structures” and “discussed the mobilisation of resources, the motivation of private business in this work, and financing. The priority is obvious”,”his office said.

Fortifications built after 2014 – when Moscow’s proxy militia seized much of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions – are now helping Kyiv’s forces hold out against intense Russian attacks on the town of Avdiivka, on the outskirts of occupied Donetsk city.

“Our servicemen are acting competently and decisively, occupying a more favourable position and expanding their zones of control in all directions,” Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday, claiming his forces were “inflicting [artillery] fire damage on the Ukrainian armed forces, significantly reducing their combat capabilities”.

Kyiv’s troops are under particular pressure in Avdiivka, around the occupied city of Bakhmut 70km to the north, and near Kupiansk a further 150km north in Kharkiv region.

However, Ukraine’s military is holding bridgeheads on the eastern bank of the Dnipro river in Kherson region, and its SBU security service claims that its saboteurs caused explosions on two key train lines in Siberia this week, disrupting Russian military cargoes.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe