Zelensky Confirms Ukrainian Counteroffensive, Breaking Long-Held Silence

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed Saturday that much-anticipated counteroffensive operations are underway in the country’s war against Russia, but offered little in the way of specific detail. 

“Counteroffensive and defensive actions are taking place in Ukraine, but I will not say in detail what stage they are at,” Zelensky said during a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is on a surprise visit to Ukraine. 

Ukraine’s generals “are all in a positive mood,” Zelensky said. “Pass that on to Putin,” he added with a smile. 

The surprise announcement came just one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the battle had commenced and that Ukrainian troops were suffering “significant” losses as a result. “The Ukrainian troops haven’t achieved their stated tasks in a single area of fighting,” he told reporters in Sochi on Friday. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) noted that Putin’s comments marked “a departure from previous Kremlin efforts to downplay Ukrainian counteroffensives.”

Ukrainian officials have long maintained a strategic silence about any counteroffensive plans, which have been in the works for months. Last week, the country’s defense ministry released a short video of troops clad in full military gear raising a finger to their lips and instructing viewers to “shhh,” as gunfire sounded in the background. Zelensky’s comments Saturday are his first explicit acknowledgment of the counteroffensive.

Two Western military analysts told NBC News that German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks, which only made it to Kyiv after months of back-and-forth with NATO, have already been used as part of the counteroffensive. 

A day earlier, the ISW reported that a “variety of indicators” suggested that the Ukrainian counteroffensive operations were already underway, and noted that this early phase “may also see the highest Ukrainian losses.” 

According to The New York Times, “American intelligence agencies have assessed that the most likely scenarios are smaller Ukrainian victories in the opening stage of the fighting, like retaking some parts of the Donbas or pushing Russia out of agricultural and mining areas in southeastern Ukraine.” 

Although it’s difficult to independently verify facts on the ground, Ukraine’s military already has reported gains of just over one kilometer near Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine that Russia claimed to have captured in late May, as well as small tactical gains in the eastern Donetsk region. On Saturday morning, the British Ministry of Defense acknowledged “significant” Ukrainian operations over the past two days and said the Ukrainian military had “likely made good progress and penetrated the first line of Russian defense.” In other places, however, the ministry noted that “progress has been slower.” 

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