Ukraine is going to keep coming for us with counter-attacks, acknowledges Putin

Ukrainian service members ride a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle near the front line city of Bakhmut - Reuters
Ukrainian service members ride a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle near the front line city of Bakhmut - Reuters

Vladimir Putin said he expects Ukraine to keep attacking as he acknowledged that an offensive to push Russian troops out of the country had begun.

“All counter-offensive efforts so far have failed,” Putin said in comments to a Russian journalist, “but the offensive potential of the Kyiv regime still remains”.

The remarks came as he announced that he will deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus from July 6, marking the first time Moscow has deployed such weapons outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine has launched several large attacks against Russian forces in the south of the country since Monday in what appears to be the start of a major offensive push.

Zelensky in ‘constant communication with military’

Earlier on Friday Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time acknowledged the campaign developing in the south of the country, but said it was too early to talk about it.

“I am in constant communication with our military. The commanders of Khortytsia, Tavria, all those involved in the hottest areas,” the Ukrainian president said in a video message.

Volodymyr Zelensky
Volodymyr Zelensky

He added that “there is progress” in Donbas, but said: “It is not time to talk about it yet.”

The Khortytsia and Tavria operational-strategic groups are the major Ukrainian formations fighting in southern Ukraine.

A military spokesman said in an update on Friday that “the enemy continues to conduct defensive actions on Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions,” but did not comment on Ukrainian actions there.

The Russian ministry of defence said on Friday that its forces had repelled two Ukrainian assaults south of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region and four near Velyka Novosilka, about 50 miles further east.

There were also reports of a Ukrainian attack on the village of Lobkove, 15 miles to the west.

The fighting’s progress is almost impossible to confirm because of the Ukrainian reporting blackout. Most reports came from pro-Russian war bloggers and cannot be independently confirmed.

Alexander Sladkov, a correspondent for Russian media, said the line was stable and Ukrainian attacks had so far failed to make progress despite “intense” fighting.

War Gonzo, a blog with close ties to the military and the Wagner mercenary group, said the situation was “serious” and the Ukrainians had succeeded in reaching Russian lines near the village of Robotino, southeast of Orikhiv, during a night attack.

None of the claims could be independently verified, and propagandists on both sides released drone footage to give the impression that they were winning.

One video published on a pro-Russian Telegram channel showed what appeared to be one Ukrainian Leopard 2 tank and at least four Bradley fighting vehicles disabled and abandoned in a field. The Western donated armour appeared to have hit mines.

Another, published by pro-Ukrainian sources, showed a number of Russian infantrymen abandoning trenches and fleeing on foot in the face of a Ukrainian attack.

Elsewhere, the Ukrainians claimed to have advanced 1,200 metres in 24 hours near Bakhmut in Donbas, a significant gain if confirmed.

Serhiy Cherevaty, a military spokesman, said the attack had taken advantage of Russian confusion during a troop rotation.

Ukrainian soldiers on the front line - Roman Chop/AP
Ukrainian soldiers on the front line - Roman Chop/AP

A Ukrainian breakthrough in Zaporizhzhia region could threaten to cut the land corridor connecting Russia to Crimea, isolating Russian troops there.

Russia has built defensive lines several miles deep in anticipation of the offensive.

Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at the Centre for Naval Analysis, told The Economist: “It is too early to judge the operation, as much of the fighting has only reached Russia’s initial lines. The indications are that Ukrainian forces have made gains, digging into Russian lines, but also that the fighting is heavy, resulting in losses.”

Major General Ivan Popov, the commander of Russia’s 58th army, which is defending the area, said in a voice note shared by Russian military bloggers that attacking forces included Ukraine’s 47th separate assault brigade.

The 47th is one of several to have undergone training in Britain and be equipped with Western weapons in preparation for the counter offensive.

There was no confirmation from the brigade. The last message on its official Telegram account was posted on Sunday and says: “Plans love silence. There will be no start announcement.”