Top Ukrainian generals say counteroffensive is 'going to plan' as losses mount

Ukrainian troops launched the counteroffensive a month ago.

July 3, 2023, 4:26 PM

KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Armed Forces have yet to reach their "full potential" but two top generals say the counteroffensive is "going to plan" despite anxiety among some Western analysts that Ukraine is not making enough progress.

"So far things are developing according to plans that were drawn up and approved," Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, said in an interview with ABC News' chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz.

Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, who is leading the counteroffensive in the south, said the situation is "stable."

"The main thing is that we haven’t reached our full potential," Tarnavskiy said.

The abortive coup from the Wagner Group, the private military company headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, has led to speculation that President Vladimir Putin is losing his grip on power in the Russian Federation. Syrskyi, however, said the aftermath of the failed coup would not impact the fighting on the ground.

"The events in Russia itself had no impact on fighting in the area of responsibility of my group of troops," he said. "It would be better for us if there were some negative consequences in Russia itself. But it doesn't matter for me."

He added, "I think the history of Wagner is closed."

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company, records a video address in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023.
AP Photo

Ukrainian troops launched the counteroffensive a month ago, attacking on multiple axes on the southern frontline in Zaporizhzia using Western-supplied vehicles. Ukraine succeeded in piercing Russian lines at two points, liberating a string of villages, but has since been locked in ferocious fighting.

Local resident Volodymyr Bokii, 69-year-old, stands next to his house damaged by a Russian ballistic missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the town of Kushuhum, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine July 3, 2023.

Progress has been far slower than the lightning speed of the fall counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, which saw Russian forces taken by surprise.

In recent days though there have been growing signs of progress, with Ukraine making advances around Bakhmut, the eastern city that Russia suffered tens of thousands of casualties trying to take. Ukraine has also succeeded in establishing a small beachhead on the Russian-held eastern side of the Dnieper River across from Kherson.

The goal, Ukrainian commanders and officials have suggested, is to wear down Russian forces enough to create a breakthrough that can be exploited by Ukraine’s main counteroffensive force. Ukraine has still not engaged all of the brigades it assembled for the counteroffensive or the weapons provided by Western allies.

The slow progress has led to some pessimistic assessments of the counteroffensive's prospects. In reality, both Ukrainian officials and troops on the ground -- as well as many independent analysts -- say this is still only the first phase and what they always knew would likely be the most difficult one.

Syrskyi is currently overseeing Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut and the East, where Ukrainian troops this week advanced on its southern flank.

"We all wish to achieve this result but so far things are developing according to plans that were drawn up and approved," said Syrksyi. "I would call it a natural process of achieving our victory without any pressure or pushes from anyone."

ABC News’ Martha Raddatz spoke to the commander of Ukraine’s land forces, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, about the current state of the war in Ukraine.
Yulia Drozd/ ABC News

Asked if he was confident of retaking the key city of Bakhmut, Syrskyi said, "Yes, of course. I’m sure."

Both sides have suffered heavy casualties, according to Western officials, particularly in the south where Russia has so far conducted "relatively effective defensive operations" in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia province, the U.K. Ministry of Defense reported.

"The enemy is suffering eight times or even 10 times higher losses, especially with the number of killed troops," said Syrksyi.

Now, Russian forces are far more entrenched along a front line that stretches thousands of miles. Ukraine so far has claimed to retake at least seven villages since the counteroffensive began. Advances along the front line have also seen Western officials reporting that some land held by Russian-backed forces since 2014 may have been liberated.

The specter of nuclear weapons has been raised a number of times throughout the war, especially as Russian successes on the battlefield have stalled. Ukraine’s top general dismissed the possibility of their use for the time being.

"If I said I'm worried [about a nuclear strike], I wouldn't be telling the truth," Tarnavskyi said. "Of course we have to take into account the fact that nuclear weapons are already in Belarus or will be stationed there. So we have to factor that in when drawing up our future plans and forecasts. But it doesn't frighten me at all."

Both generals thanked the United States for its military support, saying that armor provided by the West was making a difference on the battlefield.

As for troops in the south, Ukrainian forces are facing "massive minefields" in the Russian-occupied territory, General Tarnavskyi said.

"It's a fierce stand-off with the enemy who uses minefields, anti-tank weapons. They conduct large-scale operations from the air, they launch air and missile strikes," he said. "The Russians specifically target Western equipment. They are trying to destroy as many vehicles as possible. It's a priority for them."

ABC News’ Patrick Reevell, Nate Luna, Joe Sheffer, Fidel Pavlenko and Yulia Drozd contributed to this report.

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