Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has said his country’s military needs more time to prepare a counter-offensive aimed at pushing back Russian occupying forces.
Mr Zelensky said in an interview broadcast on Thursday by the BBC that it would be “unacceptable” to launch the assault now because too many lives would be lost.
“With (what we have) we can go forward and be successful,” Mr Zelensky said.
“But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable.”
“So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time,” Mr Zelenskyy added.
A Ukrainian fightback against Russia’s invasion more than 14 months ago has been expected for weeks.
Ukraine is receiving advanced Western weapons, including tanks and other armoured vehicles, and training for its troops as it gears up for an expected assault.
While a counterpunch is possible as the weather in Ukraine improves, there has been no word on when it might happen. Mr Zelensky’s remarks could be a red herring to keep the Russians guessing and ammunition supply difficulties faced by both sides have added more uncertainty.
A claim by the Ukrainian military on Wednesday that it had advanced up to 1.2 miles around the hotly contested eastern city of Bakhmut brought speculation that the counter-offensive was already under way.
But Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine’s Operational Command East, told The Associated Press that the attack was not the “grand counter-offensive, but it’s a harbinger showing that there will be more such attacks in the future”.
The Kremlin’s forces are deeply entrenched in eastern areas of Ukraine with layered defensive lines reportedly up to 12 miles deep. Kyiv’s counter-offensive would likely face minefields, anti-tank ditches and other obstacles.
Moscow has repeatedly explained its lack of advances on the battlefield as an effort to protect civilians but those claims have proved to be false.
Russian president Vladimir Putin is counting on reducing the war to a so-called frozen conflict, with neither side able to dislodge the other, Mr Zelensky said. He ruled out surrendering territory to Russia in return for a peace deal.
Military analysts have warned that Mr Putin is hoping that the West’s costly support for Kyiv will begin to fray.
Ukraine’s Western allies have sent the country 65 billion euros (£56bn) in military aid to help thwart the Kremlin’s ambitions, and with no peace negotiations on the horizon the alliance is gearing up to send more.
A senior Nato official said that in the coming months of the war, Ukraine will have the edge in quality but Russia has the upper hand in quantity.
“The Russians are now starting to use very old material, very old capabilities,” Admiral Bob Bauer, chairman of the Nato Military Committee, told reporters late on Wednesday in Brussels.
“The Russians will have to focus on quantity,” he said. “Larger number of conscripts and mobilised people. Not well-trained. Older material, but large numbers, and not as precise, not as good as the newer ones.”
A counter-offensive is a major challenge, requiring the Ukrainian military to orchestrate a wide range of capabilities, including providing ammunition, food, medical supplies and spare parts, strung along potentially extended supply lines.
The front line extends more than 600 miles.
The Kremlin wants Kyiv to acknowledge Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and also recognise September’s annexation of the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia.
Ukraine has rejected the demands and ruled out any talks with Russia until its troops pull back from all occupied territories.