Ukraine has shown more and more signs that it intends to launch a counteroffensive in the south of its territory, an area now largely controlled by Russia. The latest warning came this weekend through Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov: “We have about 1 million men to defend the south.”
The speech, in an interview with British newspaper The Times, was interpreted with skepticism by military analysts, but comes on the heels of other statements that urge residents of the region to leave, citing that counterattacks are imminent.
Kherson, one of the country’s main port cities, was the first to fall under Moscow’s control, even at the beginning of the conflict, in late February. Reznikov claims that, on orders from President Volodymyr Zelensky, the priority is to retake occupied areas around the Black Sea coast, which are vital to the Ukrainian economy.
“The president ordered the military chief to draw up plans and, after that, the General Staff is doing its homework,” he said. He said he was contacting counterparts in other countries to explain the objective and, of course, ask for more weapons to be sent.
The skepticism of military analysts, however, rests on two main reasons. First, the fact that it would be unusual for one side of the war to repeatedly speak of one-off counter-offensive actions, as this would give time for the opponents to reorganize.
“It would be normal to want the launch of a counterattack to be a surprise,” Jack Watling, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told the BBC. “Announcing this publicly forces the Russians to commit more resources to containing this threat.”
Another factor is the efforts that Kiev has expended in the east of the territory, in the portion known as Donbass, where the attacks are concentrated. The need for forces deployed to the east makes the figures presented by the defense minister seem inflated for a counteroffensive in the south.
The holder of the portfolio, however, appealed to mathematics. “We have approximately 700 thousand [homens] in the Armed Forces; added to the National Guard, the border guard and the police, we are about 1 million,” Rezniko told the Times.
To resist the Russian invasion, Ukrainian forces have relied on activists and volunteers, some of whom were trained by members of the Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi group partially incorporated into the army months before the war. There are several cases of fighters from abroad who offered to help the country — Brazilians even died at the front.
The country even created a military unit to house foreign volunteers, known as the International Defense Legion of Ukraine, which makes it possible to register online. Damien Magrou, spokesman for the unit, warned on Monday (11) of the country’s disadvantage in relation to Russia. According to him, he told Reuters, in the comparison between the artillery of Moscow and Kiev, the ratio is eight to one.
On the Russian side there is also a challenge in this regard. Ukrainian intelligence, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, claims that Moscow has often turned to private military companies to increase the number of recruits and compensate for personnel losses in the war.
The main case is the Wagner Group, about which the government of Vladimir Putin denies having knowledge. Ukrainian intelligence says the group has been recruiting Russian prisoners, regardless of the nature of the crimes they have committed, and offering amnesty from their sentences in exchange for military service.
The map of Russian control in the Ukrainian territory allows to observe a band that extends from the northwest to the south of the country. An important point would be the capture of Kharkiv, the second largest in the country, located north of the Donbass. Local officials said the city was hit by missiles from Moscow on Monday, leaving three civilians dead and 31 others injured, including two children.