In order to recapture its territories seized by the Russian invaders, Ukraine plans on forming a “million-strong army” supplied with NATO weapons, according to Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
To retake the southern territories is crucial to Ukraine as it is where a significant bulk of the country’s economy is located. It is also from the region’s Black Sea ports that Ukrainian grain is exported, which is something that Ukraine would like to bring back under its control.
Interviewed by The Times newspaper, Defence Minister Reznikov commended the UK for its “key” role in making sure that instead of Soviet-era weapons Ukraine is provided with NATO-standard air defence systems and ammunition. Still, the official reiterated the call to speed up arms deliveries. “We need more, quickly, to save the lives of our soldiers. Each day we’re waiting for howitzers, we can lose a hundred soldiers.”
Commenting on the number of Ukrainian service members, Mr Reznikov told The Times that Ukraine had “approximately 700,000 in the armed forces,” adding that together with “the national guard, police, border guard, we are around a million-strong.”
But Jack Watling, PhD, of the Royal United Services Institute, drew a question mark above such numbers. “It’s not a million-strong force that will be conducting a counter-attack,” he told the BBC, adding that “normally you would want operational surprise when you launch a counter-attack, so announcing it publicly is partly about forcing the Russians to have to commit resources more widely to guard against this threat.”
The thread of the “one-million-strong army” emerged as three people were reported dead and 28 wounded in Russian shelling of residential areas in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
Ukraine may believe that while Russia focuses its military effort in the east, now is a good time to try to take back parts of the south. The BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Beale believes that Ukraine had spotted a window of opportunity to take back what is rightfully theirs while Russian forces are locked on the Donbas front.
The expert also noted, however, that the bulk of Ukraine’s military effort and resources were already engaged in fierce fighting in the Donbas. “We have spoken to a number of units that have already lost more than half their troops and need reinforcements,” Mr Baele wrote.
Noting that Ukraine’s morale had risen with the receipt of more advanced Western long-range artillery systems, the expert stressed the country’s continuous calls for more.
While some Western politicians have suggested to senior Ukrainian decision-makers and military commanders that the time to launch a major southward counter-offensive is not ripe yet, Mr Baele pointed out that Ukrainian counter-attacks around Kharkiv and Kherson “have had limited success. They still need time to rebuild their army.”
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