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Nearly five months into Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor—and amid fears of fading Western support for Kyiv—Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov remains hopeful that his country can emerge victorious.
“Russia can definitely be defeated,” he told former US Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst during an exclusive Atlantic Council event Tuesday. “Ukraine has already shown how it can be done.”
Having successfully wielded the advanced artillery and other precision weapons the West has so far provided, Kyiv is ready to press on to take back all of Ukraine—including Crimea, Reznikov said. But the pace of arms supplies remains a major challenge, he added: “We need weapons fast, and in sufficient quantities.”
Here are more key takeaways from Reznikov’s talk with Herbst, senior director of the Council’s Eurasia Center:
The tools to win
- Reznikov praised his military’s ability to inflict serious damage on Russia’s occupying forces in Ukraine, particularly through the long-awaited high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) from the United States. “For us, saving the lives of our people is of crucial importance now,” he said. “That’s why we’re using HIMARS systems precisely like the scalpel of a doctor [in] surgery.”
- But while Ukraine has already liberated more than 1,000 towns and settlements previously occupied by Russia, Reznikov said, it still aims to reclaim another 2,500 or so—which is why Kyiv’s forces need “at least 100” more HIMARS and multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) units to be “a game-changer” during any Ukrainian counteroffensive. “We proved to our partners that we can use these economically, I would say, and precisely.” He added that Ukraine needs 50 more HIMARS just to stop Russia from seizing more territory.
- Reznikov said long-range rockets capable of hitting targets at least 100-150 kilometers away are now needed to “completely destroy” deep-seated Russian supply lines without pounding large swaths of terrain like Moscow currently does through what Reznikov described as its “meat-grinder” strategy. He also emphasized the need for anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, anti-ship missiles, aircraft, tanks, and armored personnel carriers to mount a successful counteroffensive.
Lessons (to be) learned
- But artillery guns alone aren’t enough, Reznikov said: They should be complemented by “organic units” that include reconnaissance drones to continue effectively targeting Russian forces while minimizing collateral damage.
- More broadly, he believes there’s clear value for Western arms producers to ship their products to Ukraine—whose battlefields have become “a testing ground” for new gear.
- Reznikov cited Poland’s AHS Crab self-propelled howitzer as just one example, adding that his military regularly shares feedback about how the equipment performs in real-life situations against a well-armed enemy. “Give us the tools—we will finish the job [and] you will have new information,” he said in an appeal to arms producers.
Terror has a name
- Another way the West can help, Reznikov says, is by officially designating Moscow as a state sponsor of terrorism based on its indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainian civilians. “The Kremlin needs to be seen as the leader of global terrorism and treated accordingly,” he said. “As a lawyer, I am certain that we have more than enough formal reasons to do so.”
- He appealed to American audiences, specifically, by suggesting there was significance behind what Ukrainian intelligence believes is a Kremlin plan to hold referendums on annexing occupied territory. “The Kremlin associates itself with terrorism even in its choice of symbols,” Reznikov added.
- Since the start of the invasion, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has blockaded Ukraine’s ports and kept the country’s grain from getting to market, exacerbating a global food crisis. Reznikov voiced support for the idea of a humanitarian convoy—a recent Atlantic Council issue brief delved into this issue—to open the critical port in Odesa, if the operation were to be conducted “under the [United Nations] umbrella” in partnership with NATO ships.
- Reznikov also noted how these impacts of a full-scale war were predictable—and indeed he predicted many of them himself in a December article for the Council’s UkraineAlert section. “I wrote that a large-scale conflict would create three to five million refugees and would pose a threat to global food security. I also noted that Ukraine would fight,” he said. “My predictions came true.”
Dan Peleschuk is the editor of New Atlanticist.
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