White House sees new Ukrainian progress in counteroffensive against Russia

White House sees new Ukrainian progress in counteroffensive against Russia

Ukrainian forces have made “notable progress” in the southern Zaporizhzhya region in the last 72 hours as their counteroffensive, now in its third month, picks up momentum against Russian defensive lines, the White House said Friday.

Private analysts have said Ukraine’s much-touted spring offensive has made only modest gains to date, especially compared to the major advances Kyiv’s forces made last fall in reclaiming several major cities in the country’s occupied south and east. Even Ukrainian government officials have said that Russian troops used the winter months to set up formidable defensive lines that have proven hard to crack.

“They have achieved some success against the second line of Russian defenses,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday. “They still have some tough fighting ahead of them as they try to push further south.”

He warned that Moscow could react to Ukraine’s advances by launching its own counterattack, calling such a move “not beyond the realm of possibility.”

“We’re making sure that Ukraine has everything they need, not only to keep the progress going but to be able to react positively and effectively against any Russian counter-efforts to move against them,” Mr. Kirby said. “We’ve done an awful lot in the last year and a half to ensure that they’re successful and to keep that success going.”

The Institute for the Study of War think tank also noted that Kyiv has recently achieved “unspecified success” on the battlefield near Bakhmut and Melitopol, in the western  Zaporizhzhya region. Ukraine’s chief of artillery said they have achieved parity with Russia in counter-battery capabilities. 

“NATO-provided artillery systems with ranges of [20 to 25 miles] allow Ukrainian forces to destroy Russian artillery systems and force Russian forces to move their artillery further from the frontline,” the ISW said this week.

Mr. Kirby addressed the often anonymous criticism in the press of Ukraine’s slow but steady pace against the heavily fortified Russian defenses, calling it “frankly, not helpful to the overall effort.”

“You can’t deny that they have made progress. Now, it has been slow in some areas — slower than they themselves have said they’d like to go,” he said. “But they have been fighting every single day, bravely and courageously, and we have been trying to get them what they need.

Ukrainian officials are also increasingly frustrated by the growing criticism of their progress on the battlefield. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the nay-sayers were “spitting in the face of Ukrainian soldiers.”

“I would recommend all critics to shut up,” Mr. Kuleba said during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Spain. “Come to Ukraine and try to liberate one square centimeter by themselves.”