Russian advances have made it “very, very difficult” for Ukraine to win its war with Moscow, according to one of Kyiv’s top security officials who said the country was prepared for prolonged resistance.
Oleksiy Danilov, chief of the national security council, told the Financial Times that Ukraine could win “because we are fighting for our freedom”. But he said a drawn-out war to drive out Russia’s invading army could only succeed if western countries accelerated supplies of advanced weapons.
Confidence that Ukraine could inflict further defeats on Russia after President Vladimir Putin’s forces retreated from most of the north and east of the country has given way to a dour mood in Kyiv as momentum has slowly swung back Russia’s way.
An offensive in the Donbas, where the worst fighting is concentrated, has put Russia on the verge of capturing Luhansk province, which together with Donetsk province makes up the industrial border region in Ukraine’s east.
Russian troops had taken most of Sievierodonetsk, an important regional centre, where heavy artillery barrages and street battles destroyed much of the city.
Ukraine said on Sunday it had mounted a counterattack and now held half of the city, where officials claimed they continued to push back Russia’s forces. Reports on Monday were mixed, with some officials suggesting Ukraine had lost ground again.
Ukraine also faces deep economic challenges after Russian missile strikes destroyed the country’s main oil refinery and depots, causing nationwide fuel shortages.
Electricity supplies are threatened after Russia occupied regions with most of the country’s coal mines and seized control of one of Ukraine’s four nuclear power stations.
“Many factories and enterprises have stopped their production processes and cycles due to the fact that the Russian Federation today occupies about 20 per cent of our territory,” Danilov said, saying Ukraine’s only option was to outlast Russia.
“How long can Ukraine stay in this state? I can say long, very long. Although it will be very, very difficult for us,” he said.
Danilov said that in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk “there is an advantage of the enemy in artillery . . . They pound there, pound and pound.”
“Unfortunately, we cannot now adequately respond in the same way, given that the weapons that we sorely need are lacking today.”
He said Ukrainian forces could make a further retreat from Sievierodonetsk and other towns in the region while they regroup.
“The temporary loss of territories is not a tragedy. The tragedy will be the loss of the country,” Danilov said in an interview.
Danilov said he was confident the western weapons needed to launch a counter attack “will definitely arrive,” adding he was “more than confident that we will regain our territories”.
The US said last week it would supply Ukraine with new weapons, including multiple launch rocket systems, as part of a $40bn assistance package. The UK said on Monday it would also give Ukraine M270 MLRS, which have a range of up to 80km, well beyond the 25km range of most Russian heavy artillery. Spain is also reportedly set to deliver anti-aircraft missiles and Leopard A4 tanks from its munition reserves.
But the speed and scale of weapons deliveries has frustrated some in Kyiv, where President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine’s troops are outgunned 20 to one by Russian artillery and are dying at a rate of up to 100 a day, with 400 wounded.
Ukraine needs to form six new brigades of 25,000 men for a counter-offensive to reclaim territory held by Russia in the east and south, including hundreds of rocket launchers and artillery, planes and tanks as well as thousands of drones, another adviser to Ukraine’s government on security matters said.
The MLRS systems from the US also come with limited ammunition and can only fire at an 80km range rather than the 300km range Ukraine wants to hit Russia’s supply lines.
Danilov said western supplies had already played a crucial role in holding back Russia’s initial blitzkrieg.
He expressed confidence that the inflow of longer range and heavier calibre weaponry “will continue . . . until we defeat Russia” and said Ukraine’s continued defiance had “broken” concerns in western capitals about providing more powerful arms.
Russia’s apparent willingness to sacrifice its own troops for minor territorial gains, however, has made it more difficult for Ukraine’s forces to hold out, he added.
“Russia is a big country in size and it has a lot of this cannon fodder that they send here. And this process, it can’t be very fast,” Danilov said.