Ukraine Situation Report: Kyiv Tries To Lower Expectations For Its Counteroffensive

Ukraine’s Defense Minister is tamping down expectations for his nation’s counteroffensive, saying this now-three-week-old effort is very different from the relatively swift victory last fall in Kharkiv Oblast.

“In autumn, I remind you, there were two campaigns – Kherson and Kharkiv,” Oleksii Reznikov on Monday told the Czech Present Time TV station channel, a station created by Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty with the participation of Voice of America. “The Kharkiv operation went very quickly, successfully, unexpectedly for the enemy, for the world community, and for many Ukrainians as well.”

It was, he said, a “well thought out military operation, well planned and executed. The Russians were not ready, so we successfully reached the Oskil River. Kherson, on the contrary, moved more slowly. Because a completely different soil relief, weather conditions and much more.”

The current counteroffensive was launched on June 4th and is taking place across 600 miles of front lines stretching from northern Donetsk Oblast to central Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Ukrainian officials have frequently voiced how difficult it has been.

“Therefore, it is now impossible to expect that everything will happen as quickly as it happened with Kharkiv,” said Reznikov. “Because the front line is completely different, and the terrain, and weather conditions. Plus, the Russians had the opportunity to prepare. There is an incredible density of minefields.”

As a result, Ukraine is proceeding cautiously, said Reznikov.

“Unlike the Russians, the Ukrainians take care of the lives of their soldiers,” he said. “The Russians use their soldiers as cannon fodder. They use the tactics of a meat grinder and grind their resource.”

As an example, he pointed to the eight-month battle for Bakhmut, where he said the Russians suffered a total of 60,000 troops killed and wounded. Other estimates put the Russian casualty count lower, but still quite significant.

“These are crazy losses,” he said. “Yes, mostly they are former prisoners, a resource that they do not feel sorry for. But for us, unlike them, the main value is the life and health of our defenders…”

Given that, “we do not use meat grinder tactics,” Reznikov said. “Our officers, our commanders are maneuvering, look for opportunities, move carefully. I suggest not pushing them, not pushing them, they are doing their job. And they will do it.”

That caution has resulted in fewer Ukrainian casualties than the Russians are suffering, said Reznikov.

Ukranian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar gave a more granular assessment of the battlefield on Tuesday.

“In the south, the offensive continues in several directions,” she said on her Telegram channel.

“Everything happens there according to the plan established by the military. There are certain advances in all directions where our military is moving. But the enemy simply will not surrender the occupied positions, and therefore fierce battles and a very powerful duel continue.”

Ukraine is making more progress in the southern sector of the battlefield at the moment than the east, she said.

“In the south, battles are currently taking place in the directions where Ukrainian soldiers are advancing, and the enemy is on the defensive,” said Maliar. “At the same time, we have directions where, on the contrary, the enemy is advancing, and we are on the defensive. For example, Kupiansk and Lyman.”

But like her boss, Maliar urged caution in reading too much into what’s taking place at the moment. Repeating a theme she delivered yesterday, Maliar said it “is incorrect to evaluate the effectiveness of military actions solely by kilometers or the number of liberated settlements. Because there are a lot of evaluation criteria. This is a whole complex of evaluations, and many tasks are set before the military.”

Like Reznikov, Maliar said expectations for this counteroffensive are high.

“It is clear that people want it to be like a movie – editing, very fast, the movie started at 1 p.m., in an hour and a half it was over and it was clear what had happened,” she said. “Of course, life doesn’t work like that, and war is a completely different situation. We will advance gradually, with difficulties, facing the furious resistance of the enemy.”

While progress is slow but steady, Maliar said it is only the beginning.

“But, of course, the main blow is yet to come,” she said, repeating another refrain from yesterday.

Russia, meanwhile, still insists the counteroffensive is a failure.

“Since June 4, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have launched 263 attacks at Russian Forces positions,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday at the Russian Defense Ministry Board meeting. “Due to competent and dedicated actions of Russian units, all attacks have been repelled, the enemy failed to achieve its goals.”

Thanks to the aforementioned mines and Russian aviation, this counteroffensive has been a very tough fight for Ukraine. Russia’s rotary wing aircraft have been especially vexing to Ukrainian efforts, which you can read more about here in our widely-quoted deep dive.

It’s a factor Reznikov readily acknowledged in his Present Time interview

While Russia doesn’t control the airspace, “they have dominance there,” Reznikov said. “But we also have ground-based air defense systems that maneuver in the same way together with ground units. And they give the opportunity to reduce this dominance, we bring them down.”

Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), like the thousands of Stingers donated by the U.S. and allies, “are first of all needed,” Reznikov said. “This gives the mobile groups maneuver and they can shoot down air targets at a distance of up to 7,000 meters.”

“Of course,” Reznikov added, “if we had F-16s now, we would seriously reduce this dominance. But our pilots also manage to perform miracles of heroism on the MIG-29. But you are absolutely right, for a more successful development of events, of course, it is necessary to eliminate the dominance of the enemy in the sky.”

That certainly won’t happen in time to help this counteroffensive. And as you will read about later in this story, the much-anticipated training of Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s may take longer than expected.

That doesn’t even factor in the long time it will take for the actual aircraft to arrive.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

A top U.S. State Department official said it will be a while before the U.S. grants permission to European allies to begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighters.

Defense One on Tuesday reported that Stanley Brown, principal deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, told reporters attending the Paris Air Show that there is “a lot of discussion ongoing,” and “a lot of work that needs to be done. It’ll be measured probably in months to get things done versus very quickly.”

Last month, the Biden administration announced it’s approval of the training plan, which you can read more about here.

Ukraine’s Air Force said it shot down 32 of 35 Iranian-made Shahed drones in the latest Russia barrage on Tuesday.

“Launches were carried out in the northern and southern directions – Bryansk region. and the east coast of the Azov Sea,” the Ukrainian Air Force reported on its Facebook page. “Air defense today worked in most regions of Ukraine, but the main direction of the attack of Iranian drones is Kyiv region. More than two dozen “shahedís” were destroyed here.”

Russia also attacked the Zaporizhzhia region with Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles and S-300 air defense missiles used as surface-to-surface weapons.

As a result of their air defense work over the past weeks, three Ukrainian soldiers were given military awards by the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force.

Thanks to a combination of austerity measures and shipments to Ukraine, Germany’s military has only about 20,000 155mm shells in its current inventory, the German Der Spiegel news magazine reported Tuesday.

“Defense Minister Pistorius” is launching “a purchasing offensive and plans major purchases of artillery and tank ammunition,” Der Spiegel reported. “Confidential papers show for the first time in detail how big the shortage is in the Bundeswehr [German Armed Forces].”

Because of current NATO requirements, however, the Bundeswehr must have a stock of around 230,000 pieces of the ammunition type by 2031, according to Der Spiegel. An accelerated purchase of 155 millimeter shells is “absolutely necessary.”

The news magazine reported that several federal governments had not filled long-known gaps in inventories of various ammunition types. Military aid to Ukraine has exacerbated this shortage.

As a result, Der Spiegel reported that Germany’s Defense Ministry (MoD) is planning to submit nine contracts for the accelerated purchase of artillery and tank ammunition to the budget committee of the German parliament before the summer recess. 

By way of comparison, the US. alone has provided Ukraine more than two million 155mm shells, plus millions of additional artillery rounds and other heavy ammunition.

Ukraine’s Ukroboronprom defense conglomerate hinted on Tuesday that Kyiv’s forces have used a drone with a range of 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles).

“After successful application of our 1,000 km unmanned pilot,” Ukroboronprom spokesperson Natalia Sad posted on Facebook.

She offered no details about what kind of drone, whether it was operational and, if it was, the results.

Last October, Ukroboronprom released a photo of a metal structure with a blue bird and a yellow coat of arms, captioning it: ‘Range – 1000 km, weight of the warhead – 75 kg. We are finalizing the development,’” the Ukrainian Ukrinform media site reported.

In December, Sad said that Ukroboronprom had conducted a series of successful tests of a Ukrainian attack drone with a range of 1,000 kilometers, according to Ukrinform.

While details about the long-range drone Ukronboronprom is touting remain murky, likely by design, we have reported on Ukraine’s use deep into Russian territory of jet-powered Tu-141 Strizh drones, originally built as a crude jet-powered reconnaissance UAV. Smaller Tu-143s have also likely been used in attacks. You can read about that here.

When it comes to short-range drones, like First Person Video models, Ukraine is much less reticent to publicize its battlefield actions. Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s United24 fundraising arm posted video Tuesday extolling the successes of its Drone Army.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov hailed CAESARs on Tuesday, posted a video showing the work of French and Danish-donated 155mm wheeled howitzers.

There was also video posted on social media of Ukrainian troops having a little fun while firing a CAESAR. It’s apparently the first time the howitzer has been seen in action.

Ukraine is putting its artillery to work, hammering away at Russian logistics nodes, as seen in the video below.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claims Ukraine is planning to attack “Russian Federation territory, including Crimea,” with long-range strike weapons and promised retaliation against Kyiv if that happens.

In his opening remarks at the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) Board session on Tuesday, Shoigu claimed Ukraine’s military was planning to strike Russia and Crimea with “[M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or] HIMARS and Storm Shadow [conventionally armed cruise] missiles,” according to the Russian MoD.

“Deployment of these particular missiles out of the special military operation zone will be regarded as direct involvement of USA and UK in the conflict and will result in immediate retaliatory strikes at decision-making centers in Ukraine territory,” Shoigu said without offering either proof or specifics about targets.

The Pentagon on Tuesday downplayed Shoigu’s threats, and reiterated its support for Ukraine to take back its sovereign territory, including Crimea.

“We continue to provide support to Ukraine and have committed to doing that for as long as it takes in their fight against Russia and retaking their sovereign territory,” Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh told The War Zone during a press briefing Tuesday. “As we’ve said from this podium, we believe Crimea is part of Ukraine. The Ukrainians are doing everything that they can with the equipment, with the capabilities that they can on the battlefield to continue to push Russians further back. And we support their efforts to retake their sovereign territory.”

Making his first public appearance in a while, Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov said that Russia has mined the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).

“Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was partly mined,” Budanov, head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) said on Ukrainian national television. “And the scariest part is that the cooling system was mined. If it is damaged through explosion, there is a large probability of significant problems.”

While Budanov offered no proof of his claims, back in November, he told us the Russians had mined the Nova Kahkovka dam, which was destroyed earlier this month. You can read about that claim and much more in our deep dive here.

Ukraine continues to push for NATO membership and will seek a commitment on its aspirations at a summit next month, Ukraine’s ambassador to the alliance told Politico on Tuesday.

Ukrainian Ambassador to NATO Natalia Galibarenko said her country wants “some kind of invitation — or at least commitment […] to look at the timeframe and modalities of our membership.”

NATO leaders will gather in Vilnius in mid-July for the alliance’s annual summit and Galibarenko acknowledged that any commitment “is a red line […]” for some member nations “because they do believe that it creates a burden for them.” 

“I can understand the point — I cannot support it,” Galibarenko said, while underscoring that “we are realistic, we are not pushing right now to give us the membership.”

The French government appears to be support Ukraine’s bid, as a tactical means “of influencing the conflict and bringing Moscow and Kyiv to the negotiating table,” the French newspaper Le Monde reported Tuesday.

During a press briefing Tuesday at the Pentagon, deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh deflected questions about U.S. support for Ukraine joining the alliance.

“We are certainly encouraged by what we are seeing with Sweden and when it comes to Ukraine, they will have their own path to NATO ascension,” Singh said. “NATO has an open-door policy when it comes to membership. What we are focused on here at the department is making sure Ukraine has what it needs on the battlefield today.”

The U.S., meanwhile, is set to announce a “robust” new assistance package for Ukraine.

“President Biden said … that we would stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes, and both of our countries are deeply committed to that,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a press conference alongside British foreign minister James Cleverly in London on Tuesday.

“We will continue to deliver on that commitment, including through a new robust U.S. assistance package that I’ll be able to announce tomorrow.”

Blinken did not provide details.

Video has emerged of what appears to be a large unit of U.S. volunteers under fire while fighting on behalf of Ukraine. Two videos show the troops running from building to building in a destroyed town, apparently seeking shelter from Russian drone-corrected mortar fire. It is unclear when or where the videos were taken or what happened to the troops.

Meanwhile, an M2A2-ODS Bradley Fighting Vehicle in service with Ukrainian forces was seen engaging Russian troops during the counteroffensive in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. It fired several rounds from its Bushmaster M242 25 mm automatic cannon at Russian forces dug in along a tree line.

And in this video, you can see Russian troops retreating after a Ukrainian drone unit went to work with drone-dropped munitions on positions hidden in the trees.

This Russian soldier apparently had a hard time getting up after a reported Ukrainian mortar attack.

The Russian Iron Helmets Telegram channel posted images of what it claims are destroyed Ukrainian armor vehicles in the “death fields” near Bakhmut.

“The destroyed armor and heavy losses are the result of our intelligence work,” Iron Helmets claimed.

The Russian Defense Ministry, which is offering a cash bounty for troops who take out Abrams and Leopard-2 tanks donated to Ukraine, published a video of one Russian soldier receiving such an award.

Andrei Kravstov was awarded one million rubles (nearly $12,000) for destroying a Leopard-2 tank.

The destruction earlier this month of the Nova Kahkovka dam over the Dnipro River continues to create problems. For instance, as you can see in this video below, what used to be a thriving reservoir is now an arid wasteland, raising concerns not just about water levels, but also about the toxic sediments that have accumulated over the years.

And finally, Ukraine’s top military commander clearly wants ‘the force’ on his side. Ukraine’s General Staff released video of its military’s Commander-in-Chief, Valeri Zaluzhny, sporting a patch featuring Din Grogu, aka Baby Yoda, the lovable character from Disney’s Star Wars series The Mandalorian.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.