Top Ukrainian official says counteroffensive coming soon

Reports of a massive counteroffensive in Ukraine have been widespread for weeks. Speaking to NHK, the country's defense intelligence chief insists the fightback will "start soon" because it's time to "drive the Russians out". But Kyrylo Budanov also expects the operation to drag on. And he warns success or failure hinges on the degree of weapons support from other nations.

"Many citizens are still under Russian occupation, and time can't be wasted anymore," said Budanov on May 19 in Kyiv.

Ukrainian Chief of Defence Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov speaks to NHK on May 19 in Kyiv.

At the same time, he suggests Ukrainian troops are currently ill-equipped for a prolonged battle. Budanov says they urgently need large amounts of weapons and ammunition to ensure the counteroffensive is not launched in vain.

Bakhmut on brink

The Russians say they have seized full control of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region after months of fierce fighting. But the Ukrainians insist their troops are still counterattacking in the city suburbs.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy knows his country needs more support. His tireless push to secure more arms and aid saw him attend the G7 summit last weekend in Hiroshima.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, fifth from right, attends the G7 summit in Hiroshima on Sunday.

Zelenskyy departed Japan with the pledges he came for. But ultimately, actions speak louder than words. Budanov said ahead of the summit he'll be watching closely to see exactly how far the United States and Europe go to ensure Ukraine can sustain the fightback.

Fighter jets

The United States has backed plans to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets.

"We need more weapons. And we need fighter jets," he says. "I hope the international community is really ready to support us."

Budanov knows time is running out. "We are blocking 90 percent of the attacks on our military," he says, citing the effectiveness of his country's air defense systems. But he also reveals that the Russians are hurting Ukraine's preparations for a counteroffensive by targeting key logistical hubs and troops under formation.

China's role

When asked about China, Budanov says the country is not providing Russia with weapons despite their deepening military ties. But "many electronics are being supplied," he says, adding that they could be used as parts for missiles.

When it comes to victory, Budanov is confident. The conflict has raged on and on, but he says that's exactly why Ukraine's troops must seize the moment.

The Russian army is "far from the armed forces that started the invasion...

"It's not rare for a mechanic on a submarine or cruiser to be sent away with a machine gun. 'Now you are a marine infantry. Go storm the stronghold.'

"Well, the result is appropriate."

Expert sees long operation

Japanese defense expert Ohara Bonji says it could take months or even years to push Russia's troops out. He also suggests Budanov's comments about Ukraine's readiness were entirely expected.

"Ukrainian officials cannot say Ukraine is not ready. And they must call on the international community to provide support. They need ammunition and weapons," Ohara said on Tuesday.

Sasakawa Peace Foundation Senior Fellow Ohara Bonji talks to NHK WORLD on May 23.

Ohara, a Senior Fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, believes Ukraine does have enough ammunition to start an offensive, but not enough to keep it going.

Ukrainian troops pictured near Bakhmut on April 22.

And like Budanov, he thinks success or failure could be decided in the skies. Asked about F-16 fighter jets, Ohara says the aircraft could play two important roles. "One is dogfights... and the other is to provide support by striking targets on the ground."

Watch Budanov and Ohara speak to NHK here.