EU military chief casts doubt on Ukraine regaining territory

Brussels: The European Union’s military leadership has expressed doubts that Ukraine will regain any territory lost in the war with Russia, according to German newspaper Die Welt.

“It remains questionable whether Ukraine’s full sovereignty can be restored with the resources available,” said Robert Brieger, chairman of the European Union Military Committee (EUMC), the highest military body in the EU which is composed of the 27 member states.

Ukrainian troops began their counteroffensive to regain lost territory in early June, but progress has been slow as they encountered vast Russian minefields and trenches, particularly in the southeast.

Regarding the counteroffensive, Brieger said he would be “cautious to expect a breakthrough of the Ukrainian forces through the Russian defence lines.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed on Wednesday to end Russia’s occupation of Crimea, and deflected criticism of Kyiv’s handling of the counteroffensive.

Russia seized and annexed the Crimea peninsula in 2014 in a move not recognised by most other countries, and has occupied other parts of Ukraine in the south and east since its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

“Crimea will be de-occupied like all other parts of Ukraine that are unfortunately still under the occupier,” Zelenskyy said in a defiant speech to an international conference on Crimea in Kyiv.

He said Ukrainian troops were advancing in the counteroffensive but set no time frame for retaking Crimea or other occupied territory.

The New York Times on Wednesday quoted US and other Western officials as saying Ukraine was struggling to break through heavily defended Russian lines in the south because it had too many troops in the wrong places, including in the east.

Asked about Ukraine’s military movements at a press conference following his speech, Zelenskyy outlined the risks that would be involved in moving forces away from the eastern front where, he said, Russia has about 200,000 troops.

“The proposal is this. Let’s take our forces, the armed forces from there, and transfer them somewhere,” he said, and went on to list towns and cities that could as a result become more vulnerable to Russian attacks.

“I think, after that it will be the following. A couple of days – Sloviansk, Kramatorsk; then they will go to Pavlohrad (…) I believe that is exactly the kind of hope they have. (Then) Kharkiv.”

“We will not give up either Kharkiv, nor Donbas, nor Pavlohrad, nor Dnipro,” he said.

Russia shows no sign of abandoning Crimea, which it has used as a platform to launch missile strikes on Ukrainian targets. Moscow says a referendum held after Russian forces seized the peninsula showed Crimeans genuinely want to be part of Russia. The referendum is not recognised by most countries.

Zelenskiy said that once Crimea was back under Ukrainian control, it would be part of Ukraine’s economy and therefore part of the global economy.

“Today we are taking the first such economic step. We are signing the first document with companies that are ready to enter Crimea following Ukraine,” he said.

He gave no details of the document but named several companies that he said were ready to invest in Crimea following after the end of Russian control, including Ryanair, Vodafone, Nokia and EPAM.

Ukrainian forces have raised the national flag in the settlement of Robotyne in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, Kyiv’s military said on Wednesday, though it was not clear whether the entire community had been liberated from Russian forces.

“A historic day! Soldiers of the 47th Separate Mechanised Brigade set up the flag of Ukraine in the village of Robotyne, in one of the hottest destinations – Melitopol,” the brigade said in a post on its Telegram channel.

In a video published by General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, the Ukrainian flag is seen on a roof of a badly damaged building surrounded by burnt trees.

“A blue and yellow flag signed by the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine was raised on the school destroyed by the Russian invaders on the National Flag Day!” the 47th Brigade said.