Ukraine is preparing for another Russian attempt to invade from the north – possibly around the anniversary of its first failed attempt to seize Kyiv last February, a senior commander has said.
President Vladimir Poutine may even eventually order millions of troops into the war as Russia’s offensive falters in the face of fierce and enduring Ukrainian resistance, said Major General Andrii Kovalchuk, one of the army’s top brass. Ukrainian army, in an interview.
He said Ukraine’s armed forces would be ready even to fight millions of Russians, but they would need ever more deadly support from Western allies, potentially including cluster munitions – a type of weapon that many countries, including the UK, have banned.
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Commander of the Southern Operational Command, Major General Kovalchuk, 48, a key architect of a major counter-offensive in the south of the country, told Sky News Ukraine would win the war – taking back all of its territory, including the Crimean peninsula.
But the decorated and highly experienced officer warned that the fiercest fighting could still be ahead.
The comments came in a wide-ranging interview in which Major General Kovalchuk shared his thoughts on the operation over the summer and fall that took over swaths of territory in southern l Ukraine, culminating in the liberation of the city of Khersonthe only regional capital to have been captured by Russia since the full-scale invasion.
His most notable remarks, however, were about the possibility of Russia expanding its attack.
“We live with the thought that they will attack again”
When asked if Russian forces would again attempt to invade Ukraine from the north, east and south, possibly even on February 24, the anniversary of the start of the full-scale invasion of the Kremlin last year, the commander replied: “Yes, we foresee such options, such scenarios. We are preparing for them. We live with the thought that they will attack again. This is our task.
He seemed particularly focused on the possibility of Russian troops invading again via Belarus on Ukraine’s northern border – the route to target the capital.
“We are considering a possible Belarusian offensive in late February, maybe later,” Major General Kovalchuk said, speaking at an undisclosed location in southern Ukraine.
“We are preparing for it. We are investigating. We are looking at where they are accumulating forces and means. We are preparing.”
Russia’s first attempt to conquer Kyiv from the north ended in humiliating failure.
The more motivated Ukrainian forces, supported by an initially limited flow of Western weaponry, managed to repel the ill-prepared and ill-equipped invading troops within weeks.
“We must be ready” if Putin orders a total mobilization
If Putin tried a second time, relying on the remnants of the roughly 300,000 troops he had mobilized over the summer, Ukraine would be better prepared to repel them, the general warned.
“We mined individual areas and prepared reliable defenses in certain areas,” he said.
“It will no longer be the case that they [the Russians] will simply enter, as it did on February 24 (2022). »
The outspoken commander – well-liked and well-liked by his troops and peers – also raised the prospect of the Russian president ordering full mobilization in Russia as the war drags on, potentially generating millions of troops to send in combat.
When asked if he expected the mobilization of millions of people, Major General Kovalchuk replied: “I think Putin is thinking about it. And we cannot rule out such an option. We have to be there. ready.”
On whether Ukraine would be able to cope with such a large invading force, he said: “Certainly yes. I think our position and the position of our partners today should be clear. If Putin proceeds full mobilization, our partners are ready to provide us with all the strength and means to stop not an army of 300,000 men, but an army of a million.”
Ukraine ‘needs more weapons’
He signaled that Western weapons would have to become even more lethal to meet such an expansion.
“We need more crew-served weapons – not an assault rifle, but a machine gun; not a projectile, but a cluster munition. There is a corresponding counteraction to the actions of the enemy. We are sure that our partners will help us in this matter – those who want [us] to win. Because it is not only Ukraine that is winning today, but the entire civilized world. And we have to win.”
The UK is one of more than 100 countries that have signed an international treaty banning the use of cluster bombs. Dozens of nations are not yet signatories, including the United States.
In the immediate term, the general said that Ukraine needs weapons from Western allies for offensive operations.
“We need both tanks and planes. We also need a reliable air defense system that is at least 95% effective.”
The commander spoke about his forces’ operation to retake swaths of occupied territory on the west side of the Dnipro River in the south, including the regional capital of Kherson on November 11.
He said the ultimate goal was to destroy all Russian soldiers on the west bank of the river. However, time pressures and ammunition shortages eventually allowed the Russians to retreat.
“We will give back every square centimeter of our territory”
The general said this meant the counter-offensive was only 50-60% successful, noting that these Russian troops had since moved to fight Ukrainian positions to the east and were also still able to launch artillery strikes on the west side of the river.
As for Ukraine’s next targets, the Commander-in-Chief was discreet – for now.
“One day I will definitely write a memoir,” he said. “I will tell the truth about what happened. “Today I can’t say too much so as not to spoil the future.”
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Plans, however, include taking over Crimea.
“Crimea is unmissable – it’s only a matter of time,” the general said, sitting in front of a row of flags representing different regions of southern Ukraine, including the peninsula.
“That flag isn’t just hanging there,” he said.
“We will give back every square inch of our territory.”
He wouldn’t be pulled from a timeline for the win, except to say he hoped it would be soon.
“I would like to solve all the problems this year. But I think next year we will bring everything to a logical conclusion.”