Ukraine MUST beat Russia this year or risk losing Western support
- Former British Army chief: ‘Russian army could crumble’
- Expect Ukrainian counter-offensive ‘maybe not that far away’
- Reactions come as Kiev makes progress in the besieged city of Bakhmut
Ukraine must defeat Russia this year or risk losing the support of the West, former British army chief Sir Richard Dannatt warned.
Speaking to Times Radio on Monday, the former chief of general staff said the Russian army “could crumble” in an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive later this year.
He said: “The major counter-offensive that we all expect and that the Ukrainians are preparing for has not started yet, but probably won’t be that far off. If Ukraine is going to succeed in its stated goal of liberating its territory from Russian occupation, this is the year to do it.”
Sir Richard’s comments come as the Ukrainian army on Monday hailed recent advances around Bakhmut as the first successful counterattack in the battle against Russian forces vying for control of the eastern city.
But Kiev also said the situation in Bakhmut was difficult, saying that Moscow had not changed its goal of capturing the city and was sending assault troops to the outskirts.
A Ukrainian soldier gives water to a captured Russian soldier near Bakhmut on Thursday
Ukrainian soldiers regroup after an offensive against Russia around Bakhmut last week
Sir Richard added: ‘The danger is that Western support will decline. There is also a danger that [Vladimir] Putin will see that time is on his side, so it is really important that the Ukrainians effectively mount this offensive at the right time.
“If decisive blows are dealt to the Russians, there is a chance that Russian military morale will burst and the Russian army will disintegrate in the manner we saw around Kharkiv last September.”
The Ukrainian army said last week it had begun to push back Russian troops in and around Bakhmut after months of fierce fighting, and Moscow acknowledged that its forces had fallen back north of the city.
“The advance of our forces towards Bakhmut is the first success of offensive actions in defense of Bakhmut,” Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the ground forces, said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.
“The past few days have shown that we can move forward and destroy the enemy, even in such extremely difficult circumstances,” he said. “We fight with fewer resources than the enemy. At the same time we can ruin his plans.’
Kiev is expected to launch a major counteroffensive soon to try to recapture Russian-held territory, but Ukrainian officials have indicated that the gains made around Bakhmut are not a signal that the wider counterattack has begun.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said there was heavy fighting in and around Bakhmut and that “everything” was difficult there.
The Russians have not changed their targets. They are sending assault troops to the outskirts of Bakhmut,” she wrote on Telegram.
The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.
Moscow, which launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly 15 months ago, sees Bakhmut as a springboard to attack other Ukrainian cities. Kiev has previously said that maintaining Bakhmut’s defenses will allow the army to prepare its expected counter-offensive.
Military medics provide first aid to injured Ukrainian soldiers near Bakhmut on Sunday