Ukraine has lost up to 300,000 soldiers – ex-Zelensky aide
Ukraine has lost up to 300,000 soldiers during its conflict with Russia, Aleksey Arestovich, a former aide to President Vladimir Zelensky, has claimed.
Arestovich made the revelation on Friday while speaking to journalist Yulia Latynina via video link. The former presidential aide was addressing the recent admission made by top Ukrainian MP David Arakhamia, who said the Istanbul talks between Moscow and Kiev were derailed by then-UK PM Boris Johnson, who urged Ukraine to “just continue fighting” instead of attempting to reach a deal with Russia.
“I was a member of the Istanbul negotiating team, but even I don’t know how it happened that we decided to break off the Istanbul [talks],”Arestovich stated.
The initiatives floated during the Istanbul talks were actually “very good,” he admitted, claiming that Ukraine’s neutrality and its non-alignment with NATO was a “red line” for Moscow.
Refusing to negotiate, however, has only resulted in heavy casualties, while its prospects to join NATO still remain dubious, he suggested.
“Where is NATO? Does it accept us or not? And will it accept us? ... Then the 200 thousand [Ukrainian servicemen] or whatever, 300 thousand, would still be alive,” the ex-aide said.
The remarks come as Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu revealed Moscow’s latest estimates on Kiev’s casualties. Speaking during a ministerial meeting on Friday, Shoigu claimed that the Ukrainian military has lost more than 125,000 troops and around 16,000 military hardware pieces since the beginning of its botched counteroffensive, which started in early June. The country’s efforts, as well as Western aid, have not yielded any tangible result, the minister added.
“The total mobilization in Ukraine, delivery of Western arms, and deployment of strategic reserves by the Ukrainian command have not changed the situation on the battlefield,” Shoigu explained. “Those desperate actions simply increased the losses of the Ukrainian armed forces.”
In recent weeks, top Ukrainian officials admitted the counteroffensive had failed to reach the desired outcome, and they seemed to shift blame for the failure on each other. Early in November, for instance, Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top general, said the battlefield situation had reached a“stalemate,” with Kiev unlikely to achieve a breakthrough unless it received a wonder-weapon of sorts.
The assessment has been vehemently rejected by Zelensky, who insisted the counteroffensive was still making progress. In an interview with AP published on Friday, however, Zelensky finally admitted that it had failed, stating that he considers the fact that his country’s troops are not retreating at the moment a “satisfying” enough result.
** Zelensky accepts counter-offensve has failed
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky considers the fact that Kiev’s troops are currently not retreating as a good result in itself, according to an interview published by AP on Friday. He and his allies had previously criticized the country's military leadership for describing the situation a “stalemate.”
The new comments stand in stark contrast to bellicose predictions from Kiev ahead of its much hyped summer counter offensive, which included pledges to quickly retake Crimea.
Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top general, used the term in early November, triggering a barrage of criticism from senior civilian officials and a rebuke from the president, who urged generals not to involve themselves in politics.
“Look, we are not backing down, I am satisfied,” he was quoted as saying, when asked about the outcome of the counteroffensive, which Kiev launched in early June. AP described the operation as being “powered by tens of billions of dollars in Western military aid, including heavy weaponry,” yet not forging “the expected breakthroughs.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu on Friday estimated Ukrainian losses in the last six months as surpassing 125,000 people and 16,000 pieces of heavy weaponry. Kiev’s forces have failed to change the battlefield situation, despite total mobilization, deployment of strategic reserves, and supplies of Western arms, he claimed.
The Ukrainian president blamed the shortage of Western aid for the lackluster result, but acknowledged that Kiev also has problems with manpower.
“There is not enough power to achieve the desired results faster. But this does not mean that we should give up,” he told the news agency.
Discussing whether the static front line put pressure on him to negotiate a peace deal with Russia, Zelensky said: “I don’t feel it yet.”
There is a legal prohibition in Ukraine against talks with Russia as long as President Vladimir Putin remains in office. Kiev and its Western backers have been pushing the so-called “Zelensky peace formula” as the only possible basis for a negotiated resolution. Moscow dismissed the proposal right after it was unveiled last year, calling it detached from reality.
Some security policy experts, including ex-NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and ex-Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Stavridis, have suggested that the conflict should be frozen. Ukraine would then be granted a limited membership in the US-led military bloc, with mutual defense clauses applying only to territories under Kiev’s control, the idea goes.
However, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba rejected such a proposal when asked about it on the sidelines of the NATO-Ukraine Council meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. He also denied that there was a “stalemate” on the battlefield.
Zelensky appeared to justify his reassessment of the situation by the official arrival of winter on Friday, declaring a “new phase” in the fighting.
Ukraine conducts new attack on Russian railway deep in Siberia - source
Ukraine's domestic spy agency has detonated explosives on a Russian railway line deep in Siberia, the second attack this week on military supply routes in the area, a Ukrainian source told Reuters on Friday.
The incidents appear to show Kyiv's readiness and ability to conduct sabotage attacks deep inside Russia and disrupt Russian logistics far from the front lines of Moscow's 21-month-old war in Ukraine.
The source, who declined to be identified, said the explosives were detonated as a freight train crossed the Chertov Bridge in Siberia's Buryatia region, which borders Mongolia and is thousands of kilometres from Ukraine.
The train had been using a backup railway line after an attack on a nearby tunnel a day earlier caused trains to be diverted, the source said.
Baza, a Russian media outlet with security sources, said diesel fuel tanks had ignited on a train using the backup route and that six goods wagons had caught fire. It reported no casualties and said the cause of the explosions was unknown.
The Ukrainian source, who said both operations were conducted by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), gave a similar assessment of the damage, citing Russian Telegram channels.
Reuters could not independently verify the accounts or assess whether the route is used for military supplies. Russian Railways declined to comment on the latest incident. The regional branch of Russia's Investigative Committee did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.
The Ukrainian source said on Thursday the SBU had detonated explosives in the earlier attack as a cargo train moved through the Severomuysky tunnel in Buryatia.
Russian investigators have concluded that train was blown up in a "terrorist act" by unidentified individuals, the Moscow-based Kommersant newspaper cited unnamed sources as saying.
Russian Railways, the state company that operates the vast rail network, said traffic had been diverted along a new route after the first attack, slightly increasing journey times but not interrupting transport.
The Ukrainian source said the second attack had anticipated the diversion of rail traffic and targeted the backup route at Chertov Bridge, which is on Russia's Baikal-Amur Mainline traversing Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East.
Russia's Trans-Siberian Railway is widely seen as more important for Russian freight transport than the Baikal-Amur Mainline.
A Russian industry source who declined to be identified said the backup route was functioning and being used by trains carrying freight on Friday afternoon.
** Ukrainian official predicts Kyiv airport soon to reopen
Ukraine has become progressively stronger over the past year and will soon be able to reopen Kyiv's international airport, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff said on Friday.
Andriy Yermak made the pledge while addressing diplomats at Boryspil International Airport outside the capital.
"This return to the elements of peace is possible because Ukraine has grown stronger," Yermak told the diplomats in remarks posted on Zelenskiy's website.
"We are now capable of providing security for this site. Thanks to our defence forces and our friends, your countries. I am certain that the symbolic boarding cards that you were given when you came in today will soon turn into real ones."
Yermak's deputy, Andriy Sybiga, told the gathering that the airport was the first major site to be closed in Ukraine as Russian troops poured over the border on Feb. 24, 2022 and would be the first to be reopened once conditions permitted.
Yermak had invited the diplomats to discuss elements of Zelenskiy's 10-point peace plan, which calls for a withdrawal of Russian troops, recognition of Ukraine's 1991 borders and the establishment of a tribunal to examine war crimes.