More than 220,000 Russian troops and mercenaries have been killed or injured in Ukraine, according to the latest US assessment, Britain’s defence secretary has revealed.
Ben Wallace also confirmed the first British tanks have arrived in Ukraine but said there is “still quite some considerable amounts of training to go” before Ukrainian forces are ready to use them in battle.
The UK has given 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine.
They are set to operate alongside German Marder infantry fighting vehicles within a brigade or a battlegroup that is being assembled to combine different weapons to punch through entrenched Russian lines.
“At the same time their (Ukrainian military) leadership needs to exercise and train in fighting at brigade or a battlegroup level – fight in the NATO manner or the western way,” Mr Wallace said, speaking at a press conference with his Swedish counterpart in London.
“That’s quite important. I can’t speculate on when, where or how the [Ukrainian] offensive may happen but I think it is no secret that Ukraine is keen to start the process of rolling back Russian forces in the conflict.”
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On a trip to London earlier this week, Ruslan Stefanchuk, the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, signalled that this moment would start soon.
“Of course, I cannot talk about any specifics regarding the counteroffensive,” he said in an interview with Sky News.
“But I hope that already very soon, thanks to the help and support of our partners, Ukraine can make a substantial progress towards achieving this goal: to reach the borders of 1991 and restore our sovereignty on the temporarily occupied territories.
“And to restore peace, which so many dream about, and independence on the whole territory of Ukraine.”
In February, British intelligence said Russia and its private military contractor forces had likely suffered between 175,000 to 200,000 casualties since the start of the invasion in February 2022.
They added this likely included between 40,000 and 60,000 killed.
As for Russia’s prospects, the British defence secretary has now said President Vladimir Putin’s troops were making “almost no progress whatsoever” and “suffering huge casualties”.
“The Russian forces have some really significant and deep systemic problems at the moment in their efforts. The latest US assessments I have seen now put casualty figures over 220,0000 of dead or injured,” Mr Wallace said.
Ukrainian forces have been attempting to repel a months-long push by Russian troops and Wagner mercenaries to capture the shattered city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
While a brutal killing ground for the Russians, the battle is causing heavy casualties for the Ukrainian side as well.
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Military commanders are simultaneously preparing to launch new counteroffensives elsewhere against Russian positions in the east and the south.
It looks set to be an even harder challenge than previous offensive operations by Ukraine in the northeastern Kharkiv region and Kherson city in the south.
Ukrainian troops will need to use tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and aircraft – all operating together – to punch through well-defended Russian lines and keep going to force without being outflanked.
“Ukraine has one goal: to restore our territorial integrity within the border when Ukraine became independent in 1991,” the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament said.
“Today Ukraine is standing on the frontline of the battle for democracy, for freedom, for international principles. And this is our aim. This is our goal. And we can achieve it.”
In May 2022, Ukraine collected hundreds of dead Russian soldiers and stored their bodies inside a refrigerated train in order to send them back to their families.
Ukraine’s internal affairs minister Anton Garashenko said there were more than 250 dead soldiers piled on the train because Russia “is still not picking up the bodies”.