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Zelensky says ready for counteroffensive, but fears high casualties

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with his Estonian counterpart Alar Karis following their talks in Kyiv, on June 2, 2023. (Via AFP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his forces are ready to launch their long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia but fears large casualties due to Moscow's superior air power.

In an interview published on Saturday, Zelensky said he strongly believes Ukraine "will succeed” in reclaiming those territories captured by Russia.

"I don’t know how long it will take. To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different. But we are going to do it, and we are ready," he said.

However, "a large number of soldiers will die" if Kiev is not given the weapons to counter Russian air power, Zelensky added. 

Ukraine has said it is preparing for a major offensive for months. The Ukrainian leader said it would be "dangerous" to launch without more Western help to counter Russian air attacks. 

"Everyone knows perfectly well that any counteroffensive without air superiority is very dangerous," Zelensky said. 

Russia launched the "military campaign" in Ukraine in February last year, saying it was aimed at defending the pro-Russia population in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk against persecution by Kiev, and also to "de-Nazify" the country.  

And it has managed to hold swaths of Ukrainian territory in the east, south and southeast.

Ukraine’s president said last month that his country needed to wait for more Western armored vehicles arrived before launching the counteroffensive.

He has been on a diplomatic push to maintain Western support, seeking more military aid and weapons, which is key for Ukraine to succeed.

In the meantime, Ukraine's military said in a daily report that Mariinka in the Donetsk region in the east was the focus of fighting.

Zelenskiy's remarks about a counteroffensive came just a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Washington and its allies should not support a ceasefire or peace talks to end the war in Ukraine until Kiev gains strength and can negotiate on its own terms.

Blinken said heeding calls from Russia and others, including China, for negotiations now would result in a false “Potemkin peace” that wouldn’t secure Ukraine’s sovereignty or enhance European security.

Kiev hopes a counteroffensive will change the dynamics of the war.

The West accuses Russia of fighting a war of aggression against Ukraine while Moscow says the United States and NATO are fighting a proxy war against the country in Ukraine.  

Since the onset of the conflict between the two countries, the United States and its European allies have unleashed an array of unprecedented sanctions against Russia and poured numerous batches of advanced weapons into Ukraine to help its military fend off the Russian troops, despite repeated warnings by the Kremlin that such measures will only prolong the war.

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