- By James Lawndale
- Diplomatic Correspondent, Kiev
Ukraine is ready to launch a long-awaited counter-offensive against Russian forces, a senior defense official has told the BBC.
Oleksiy Danilov did not specify a date but said the offensive to retake the territory from President Vladimir Putin’s occupation forces would begin “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week.”
He warned that the Ukrainian government had “no right to make a mistake” in this decision, as it was a “historic opportunity” that “we cannot afford to lose”.
As secretary of Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council, Mr Danilov is at the heart of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s de facto war cabinet.
His rare interview with the BBC was interrupted by a phone message from President Zelensky, calling him to a meeting to discuss the counter-offensive.
Mr Danilov said he was “absolutely calm” about Russia starting to deploy nuclear weapons on Belarus: “It’s not some kind of news for us.”
Ukraine has been planning a counterattack for months. But it wanted as much time as possible to train troops and acquire military equipment from Western allies.
The government in Kiev has much at stake as it must show the people of Ukraine — and its Western allies — that it can break through Russian lines, end the effective military stalemate, and recapture some of its sovereign territory.
Mr Danilov said the armed forces would launch an offensive when commanders calculated “we can get the best result at that point in the war”.
Asked if the Ukrainian armed forces were ready for an attack, he replied: “We are always ready. We were ready to defend our country at any time. It was not a question of time.
“We must understand that we cannot lose that historic opportunity that was given to us – by God – to our country, so we can become a truly independent, great European country.”
He added: “It could happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week.
“It would be strange if I name the starting dates of that or those events. It cannot be done…. We have a very responsible task before our country. And we understand that we have no right to make mistakes.”
Mr Danilov dismissed suggestions that a counter-offensive had already begun since February 24 last year – the date Russia launched the invasion – as the mission of the Ukrainian armed forces to “demolish Russian control centers and Russian military equipment”.
“During this war we have no holidays.
He supported Ukraine’s military’s decision to fight in Bakmut for months, which cost the lives of many of its soldiers.
“Pakmut is our land, our territory, and we must protect it,” he said. “If we start leaving every settlement, that could take us back to our western border as Putin wanted from the first days of the war.”
“We only control a small part of the city, we admit that. But you must remember that Bakmuth has played a major role in this war,” he said.
Asked if Wagner mercenaries were leaving, he replied: “Yes, it’s happening. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to stop fighting us. They’re going to focus more on other fronts… They’re regrouping at the other three locations.”