Ukraine is prepared to launch its long-expected counteroffensive against Russian forces, according to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov.
In an interview with the BBC Saturday, Danilov said the counteroffensive is coming very soon. It could begin “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week,” he said, though he refused to offer a date for the launch to begin.
“It would be weird if I were to name dates of the start of that,” he said. “… We have a very responsible task before our country.”
Danilov confirmed in the interview that the Wagner Group is withdrawing its forces from the war-ravaged Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, but he acknowledged that Russia’s Wagner mercenaries are “regrouping to another three locations” after what he called their partial withdrawal from Bakhmut.
Ukraine Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar also noted, on the Telegram messaging app, that Wagner’s offensive activity had decreased in Bakhmut but said that Russian troops are being replaced and are regrouping.
“The enemy is trying to strengthen its own capabilities,” she said.
Danilov acknowledged that Ukrainian forces control only a “small part of the city” but underscored that “Bakhmut has played a big role in this war,” despite the heavy toll on Ukrainian defenders.
Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry claimed victory over Bakhmut on May 20, about 10 months after the heavy battle for the city started.
Zelenskyy: More sanctions
In his nightly video address Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised to continue with “even more extensive” sanctions against legal entities and individuals, “most of them Russian, who work for terror.”
Zelenskyy said in total 220 companies and 51 individuals will be sanctioned regardless of where they operate in the world. Russian aggressors and their enablers will be marginalized, he warned.
“When Russia started this aggression, they looked at the world as if they were looking at themselves in a mirror. They thought that supposedly everyone in the world was as cynical and despised people in the same way as the masters of Russia do. But the world is different — the world helps us protect life,” he said.
Evicting Russia from Ukraine
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham expressed confidence that the Ukrainian counteroffensive will yield results.
“I’m here to tell you that the last chapter of the battle of Bakhmut is yet to be written. I’m here to tell you that the Russian military is about to have holy hell unleashed upon them,” he said during a news conference Friday in Kyiv.
Graham also stated that Republicans and Democrats are united in their goal to help Ukraine, and he noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin must not be allowed to win.
“History tells us aggression unchecked leads to more aggression,” he said.
He also expressed admiration for the Ukrainian people, their strength and courage.
“I am in awe of you. I admire you. You represent the best in humanity. You will win,” he said.
Graham said there are no magic weapons to winning a war, but he acknowledged that “the F-16s will matter.”
He called on the Biden administration “to do more” and expressed his conviction that “there will be bipartisan support to providing more weapons that can turn the tide of battle in the upcoming counteroffensive.”
Responding to a VOA question about whether the U.S. will support Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, Graham said Ukraine will eventually become part of the alliance and a member of the European Union but for now, the priority, he said, is for Ukraine to “evict the invader,” from Ukrainian territories.
“I told President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy nobody is signed up for an invasion of Russia. The weapons we’re providing are to evict Russia from Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s drone attacks
Drone attacks struck oil pipeline installations deep inside Russia on Saturday, including a station serving the Druzhba pipeline, one of the world’s largest oil pipelines that sends Western Siberian crude to Europe. Russian media reported the attacks were launched by Ukraine and said that shelling from Ukraine killed at least two people and injured others.
Ukrainian drone attacks inside Russia have been growing in intensity in recent weeks, and The New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence believes Ukraine was behind a drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month.
Ukrainian officials have not publicly acknowledged launching attacks against targets inside Russia. The Ukrainian defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
In Russia’s Belgorod region, Ukrainian shelling killed at least one person and injured three, including a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the region said.
Ukrainian shelling killed a construction worker in Russia’s Kursk region near the border with Ukraine, the local governor said.
At its daily briefing about the Ukraine war, Russia’s defense ministry said it had destroyed 12 Ukrainian drones in the past 24 hours and intercepted two long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles that were supplied to Ukraine by Britain.
Reuters could not immediately verify battlefield accounts from either side.
VOAs Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze contributed to this report.