Ukraine will retake the fiercely contested eastern city of Bakhmut from Russia by the end of the year, President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted during his visit to Washington, an assertion that shows the gulf between Kyiv and American war planners who believe that Ukraine should be focusing more on the south.
Zelensky, at a meeting on Thursday with American editors, also predicted that Ukrainian troops would “de-occupy two more cities” taken by Russia. He did not say which cities he meant.
And contrary to expectations from military analysts in the West, Zelensky said Ukraine would fight through the winter, without a pause.
“We will do everything not to stop during difficult days, in autumn, with not good weather,” he said. “And in winter.”
By contrast, he predicted that President Vladimir Putin of Russia would pause operations because he had lost so many troops. “They’re dead,” Zelensky said.
Zelensky also renewed his plea for longer-range missiles. The Biden administration, which has sent billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, has been deliberating about whether to provide some of its limited inventory of Army Tactical Missile Systems — known as ATACMS. Zelensky said Ukraine needs more missile capability.
“We don’t have another way out,” he said.
US intelligence and military officials have long questioned why Ukraine has fought so hard in Bakhmut, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
In March, defence secretary Lloyd Austin said the city was “more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value”.
But Zelensky has been intent on trying to retake lost territory, and Ukraine has committed large numbers of troops and weapons to retaking Bakhmut and defending the surrounding Donbas region.
Some American officials say the fight in Bakhmut has become something of an obsession for Zelensky and his military leaders. The Ukrainians’ relentless focus on the city led them to believe that a possible victory was just around the corner, long after American officials had counselled them to move on to other targets.
For his part, Zelensky pushed back on any notion that Ukraine was not making its plans deliberately and said that his forces were following a “comprehensive plan.”
New York Times News Service