‘If I die it’s my choice’: Finnish soldiers on Ukraine’s front line

This is the story of Hobbit and Mariachi, two Finns who volunteered to fight in Ukraine, where the brutal Russian invasion strikes a chord close to home.


It’s March 2022. 

Russian forces have besieged the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, shelling it from warships in the Azov Sea. Kremlin troops are still dangerously close to the capital Kyiv, while the first horrific accounts of mass killings are starting to emerge from Bucha. 

As the war unfolded around him, Hobbit arrived in Ukraine. 

“In the beginning, it was all new to me, and I was very nervous. And I was sure after one or two months there wouldn’t be a government left.”

Hobbit – who only uses his callsign not his real name for operational security reasons – is one of the estimated hundred Finns, among hundreds of other foreign fighters, who put their lives on hold to take up arms against the Russian invaders. 

For many people in Finland, the war in Ukraine has echoes of their own country’s not-so-distant past, when a Soviet false-flag operation in November 1939 saw Stalin’s forces shell a border post and blame it on the Finns as a pretext to launch a ground offensive.

Russia’s famed composer Dmitri Shostakovich was commissioned to write new music, which would be played as victorious Soviet troops marched through the streets of Helsinki to install a puppet government – a tale that chimes with reports from the current war that Russian forces had been told to pack their dress uniforms for a victory parade in Kyiv.

At the end of the short 105-day Winter War, Finland had inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviets but was ultimately forced to give up territory and pay reparations. The outcome, and the tens of thousands of internally displaced people who moved from annexed Karelia into Finland proper, makes the modern-day situation in Ukraine seem chillingly familiar to many Finns.  

“To be honest I don’t know how it happened exactly but I was watching the war, and then I started to feel that maybe I should do something, and I was sitting at home enjoying the little things in life like cinnamon buns and IPA beer,” Hobbit tells Euronews. 

“I thought why am I staying at home and enjoying this without any care in the world when 18-year-olds in Ukraine have to go to war without much training: This is the rifle, this is how you shoot, you are good to go. But I have training.” 

Like most Finnish men, Hobbit had served his conscription in the military although he says he didn’t much enjoy it at the time, with too many rules and restrictions.

Whether nine months of basic training really prepared him for war is a different question.

“No training can be the same as war of course. But I had an advantage because the Finnish army has always trained for combat against Russia, so I was taught how to survive. That is also one of the reasons why I felt I should come because we have knowledge to share.”

Hobbit’s family was less sure he should volunteer in Ukraine. “They didn’t like it at all. But in the end we discussed, and I expressed my views. I will be disappointed in myself if I do not go. It’s my life. If I die it’s my choice.” 

It’s September 2022. 

Russia illegally annexes Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhizhia as Vladimir Putin announces a “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 troops to fight in Ukraine. It’s a further sign that things are not going the way the Kremlin planned, and the call-up triggers a mass exodus of military-age Russian men trying to escape conscription. 

Hobbit is on the front line of fighting in the small town of Petropavlivka, near Kupiansk.

Along with another Finnish volunteer, he’s assigned to fire support. 


“I had a heavy machine gun stolen from a Russian tank, and my job was to move and cover the advance through the town,” he recalls.  

The pair moved into position near a crossroads, where advancing Ukrainian forces would be exposed in an open area. Hobbit had just put his gun down into a makeshift firing position when they spotted a Russian BMP-2M – an infantry fighting vehicle – a few hundred metres away. 

“I thought there was a slight chance to hit some critical system, to disable the BMP. Or if I hit it from the side, rounds might actually go through, so I started blasting the BMP and managed to empty three belts of ammunition into the vehicle and the dismounting infantry.” 

Hobbit was firing the third belt when the bullets zinged through the air. He’d been so focused on the main target that he didn’t notice the Russian sniper. One shot hit him low in the calf, embedding deep into his foot, shattering bones and severing tendons. 

Video from a body-worn camera shows the action in real time that day, and captures the moment when Hobbit is hit. He screams in agony, and swears in Finnish, a language well suited to profanities. His battle buddy calls for a medevac and soon another foreign fighter shows up in an SUV. Hobbit is unceremoniously bundled into the back, his foot bandaged, as he’s driven away. 


After a month in a Ukrainian hospital, he is transferred to Finland where his family visits him for the first time since he was injured. 

“They were shocked. There was not many words spoken, but many tears.” 

If Hobbit was one of the first Finnish volunteers to show up in Ukraine, then Mariachi is one of the newest. He’s only been in the country a few months.

The nickname, he says, is a nod to his Latin American heritage. 

Studying abroad, the 22-year-old was helping out with pro-Ukraine events on campus but knew he wanted to do more to help – a lot more. 


“It was my second year at university and I could not focus on anything. I was in school, but in my head, I was browsing the news about what was happening at the front. It was the beginning of last summer I decided I wanted to go. That’s why it took me a long time to get here, I had to prepare.” 

He first floated the idea of going to Ukraine with his dad five months before finally moving. 

“I told him what was on my mind, but he didn’t take it that well. I told my friends about one month before. They tried to stop me, and persuade me not to go. That’s a sign you have good friends. Nobody told me it was a good idea but I wouldn’t be here if I had listened to them,” Mariachi says from his base outside Kyiv, where he’s training with a reconnaissance platoon. 

Unlike the initial waves of foreign volunteers who arrived haphazardly and either served with the International Brigade or operated more independently, Mariachi is serving directly with a Ukrainian unit.

“Ukrainian commanders want good international soldiers in their units, and my commander has been actively recruiting Finnish soldiers here and reservists back in Finland.”


The advantages are that Ukrainian units get new soldiers who already have more training than Ukrainian recruits have time for. “These guys are battle-hardened, they know how to function out there in the trenches, but they’re civilians who became soldiers out of necessity, they’re not trained army men. The average Ukrainian soldier doesn’t get much training time.” 

One thing Mariachi and the other Finnish fighters in Ukraine have come to rely on is the enviable network put in place back home to support them. 

Kasper Kannosto from the Your Finnish Friends charity explains they’ve bought more than €350,000 of supplies since 2022, and received material donations like cars and equipment worth €100,000. 

On the shopping list has been defensive equipment, night vision goggles, cold weather clothing, socks, generators, pick-up trucks, vans and tools. 

“We include Finnish chocolate and coffee in the packages,” he adds. 


Mariachi is waiting on a particular brand of boots he likes, which should soon arrive via the Helsinki-Kyiv supply pipeline, and describes the service as “crucial” in providing Finnish fighters with the equipment they need.  

“I’m serving in a recon platoon and if you don’t have night vision goggles you’re fucked. That’s the reality here. And even a good, cheaper pair of night vision headsets can cost €4,500 or €5,000 which is three to four months of active pay,” he says. 

It’s March 2023. 

Bitter fighting rages in the eastern city of Bakhmut, with casualties so high it earns the grim nickname of ‘meat grinder’. Ukraine gets its first delivery of Western heavy tanks: Challengers from Britain and Leopards from Germany, as Vladimir Putin says he plans to move tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus. 

Hobbit is back in Ukraine as well, although his foot is still not healed so he needs a stick to walk around, which confines him to a desk job in logistics for months at a time while he rehabs his injury to get back in fighting shape. 


It takes him another six months before he’s running again, and when he can do 5km he’s deployed near Bakhmut – a ruined city where ‘success’ is measured house by house and village by village. Tiny incremental gains that do little but sap morale and increase the body count on both sides.

It’s October 2023.

On this mission, Hobbit is the squad leader of a machinegun team, assaulting south of Bakhmut. They’re in the treeline, advancing towards enemy positions when Russian artillery hones in on them. 

“Our whole assault element got hit by artillery, just me and a couple of others were uninjured,” he recalls flatly. 

“The assault was cancelled and we spent the next six or seven hours evacuating the wounded. When we went back for the last wounded guy we picked him up on the stretcher and artillery hit next to us.” 


Hobbit was injured for the second time, shrapnel in his shoulder and arm. They couldn’t move to safety, or move the last badly injured soldier, because of the incoming Russian artillery fire. Stuck in a foxhole, they waited for hours until they were finally able to get out. 

After a month in hospital, Hobbit requested a transfer to a Ukrainian unit but was assigned as temporary platoon leader in the meantime. “I lasted only three weeks in that role, not a great job. There was very little sleep and a lot of stress and responsibility at least with regards to the Bakhmut fighting.”

“I ended up just crying on my last day, that I can’t do it any more. Luckily I got some time off.”

It’s February 2024. 

The conflict has largely ground to a halt, with Russian and Ukrainian forces digging into entrenched positions. The war has reached increasingly beyond Ukraine’s borders, with Russian oil refineries targeted by Kyiv’s drones, while Western countries hesitate to send more military aid which is badly needed by soldiers on the front lines. 


“I feel the impact of diminishing support in the last couple of months. Germany is holding back its Taurus cruise missiles, and Europe is not giving as much aid as they should,” says Hobbit. 

“In the beginning, we were so outnumbered by the Russians that when we saw observation posts and called in artillery, we didn’t have shit.” 

“The Kharkiv offensive changed all that, we came level with the Russians. But in the last month it’s back the other way again, Russians hitting us with more artillery,” he says. 

So how long does he plan to stay in Ukraine, risking his life for a foreign country, swerving away from death each time it approaches head-on?

“I hope I won’t be here forever. But definitely until victory.” 


“The whole idea of a normal life seems impossible now. It’s hard to imagine a life after this.”

“The only thing I can imagine is a party on the day when we win. But what comes after I don’t know. It’s just a cloud.”

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As Europeans prepare for 2024 elections, Ukraine watches on

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

This year’s election campaigns have shaken the status quo, and European voters will be anxious to see what transpires during the 2024 election season. The stakes could not be higher, Mark Temnycky writes.


When Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February 2022, many were sceptical of Ukraine’s success. “Ukraine probably cannot hold off Russia forever,” read one headline. “If Kharkiv falls, Ukraine falls,” stated another headline. “Kyiv could fall to Russia within days,” said a third.

Given these assumptions, Western countries hesitated to provide Ukraine with defence assistance. 

They were fearful that, if Ukraine failed, Western weapons would fall into the hands of the Russians, similar to what occurred during the withdrawal of Afghanistan in 2021. 

Meanwhile, leaked documents from the Russian Federation showed that the Kremlin believed it could take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in a few days, and the entire country within a month. In short, the situation looked grim.

Nearly two years later, Ukrainians have proved their doubters wrong. To date, Ukrainians have successfully defended their capital, and they forced Russian soldiers out of the centre of the country. 

Ukraine also reclaimed more than half of the territory occupied by Russia, making “steady gains in a set-piece battle against a heavily entrenched force” of fortified Russian soldiers in the south and east. While Russian troops still occupy one-fifth of Ukrainian territory, Ukraine’s success on the battlefield should not be minimised.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is not an action movie

Observers of Russia’s war in Ukraine should also be reminded that Ukrainian advancements are not a movie or a video game. 

Despite a desire for instant success, the war will not be won quickly. Time and precision are required to ensure victory, and it’s worth remembering that thousands of men and women have already died protecting their country.

Despite these successes, the same critics who initially said that Ukraine would fall within a matter of days are now saying that the war is taking too long. 

They argue that Ukraine’s counteroffensive has failed because Ukrainians did not liberate their entire country over the past two years, including Crimea and the Donbas. 

Some critics also still believe that Ukraine has “no chance” of defeating the Russian forces in the south and east. 

In these circles, the consensus is that Ukraine should be forced into peace talks with Russia, and that Ukraine should no longer be assisted in its defence efforts. 

Most alarmingly, this argument seems to be spreading like wildfire.

Delayed assistance and blaming the war on others

Some warning signs are already here in Europe. For example, over the past two years, Hungary has continuously blocked military aid and humanitarian packages from the European Union to Ukraine. 

Budapest has pushed the EU to cut back on its aid spending to Ukraine. Most recently, Hungarian officials stated that they will continue to block aid to the Eastern European state as Hungary requires “further reassurances [from Ukraine] before it would change its approach to Ukraine in any international settings.” 

These attempts to stop future EU assistance packages to Kyiv include trying to halt Ukraine’s potential accession discussions with the EU and NATO. 

These continuous roadblocks have delayed EU assistance from arriving in Ukraine. Without the necessary tools to succeed on the battlefield, it has impacted Ukraine’s timeline to force the Russians out as quickly as possible.

Hungary is not alone in these antics. Earlier this year, Slovakia held its parliamentary elections, where a populist party, Smer, won. 


Smer, which is headed by a pro-Russian politician, Robert Fico, has now declared that it will stop sending defence aid to Ukraine. The party also “rejects NATO’s military support for Ukraine”. The party has previously blamed the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine on American manufacturing companies, stating that they support warmongering. 

Like the Hungarian officials from Victor Orbán’s party, Fidesz, Fico and his Slovakian group believe that too much aid has been sent to Ukraine.

Populists and the far-right are gaining ground

Finally, like Slovakia, the Dutch also had an election that ended with alarming results. In November, the Netherlands held a general election. In a surprising turn of events, Geert Wilders and his far-right group the Party for Freedom won. 

The party holds anti-EU and anti-Ukraine sentiments. It has also pledged to stop sending aid to Kyiv, although it remains to be seen if they will follow this plan.

The developments in Hungary, Slovakia, and now the Netherlands are no accident. 


Simultaneously, similar movements are also spreading in countries with larger economies, such as France, Italy, and Spain, suggesting a pattern is growing throughout Europe. 

According to a Pew Research Center study, populist groups and far-right movements are indeed gaining ground, winning “winning larger shares of the vote in recent legislative elections” across the continent. Why is this the case?

Heads will turn

Nationalist and anti-establishment rhetoric, as well as opposition to the war in Ukraine, is growing throughout Europe. Millions of citizens across the continent are concerned about the economy. 

Others are discontent with their current leaders of government, and these voters are demanding new and stronger leadership. Some have even opted to improve their relationships with Moscow, believing that sanctions on Russia brought nothing but hardship.

It is important to note, however, that there are some outliers in this trend. For example, French President Emmanuel Macron successfully defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen during the presidential election last year. 


Meanwhile, the opposition movement in Poland successfully defeated populist groups during the October general election. This suggests that, while the far-right is gaining ground, it can still be defeated.

Now, heads will turn to the various elections across Europe in 2024. Throughout the year, Finland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Iceland, and Moldova will hold their presidential elections. 

Additionally, Portugal, Belgium, Croatia, Austria, Georgia, Romania, and the United Kingdom will have parliamentary elections. 

Finally, the European Parliament will hold its elections in June. Based on the current political trends, some experts predict that far-right groups are set to perform well in most of these, while polls suggest right-wing and Eurosceptic parties might surge.

A different European landscape ahead?

If these far-right movements win in their respective elections, this would result in a very different European landscape. 


The leaders and politicians of these political parties would look to turn inward, where they would hope to adopt isolationist policies in opposition to the EU. 

Furthermore, like Slovakia and the Netherlands, they would seek to reduce or halt aid to Ukraine. 

In addition, a number of European far-right actors have called for the warming of relations with Russia, meaning that they would disregard the fact that Moscow started the war as they favour peace on the European continent instead of justice. 

Such policies would be dangerous for the European continent. Pursuing options to enhance relations with the Kremlin would signal that Europeans are ready to forgive Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, forgetting the atrocities Russian troops committed. 

It would also set a dangerous precedent, signalling to Russia that it could willfully invade and annex the territory of neighbouring states without severe consequences. 


This would only encourage other autocratic rulers across the world to act in similar ways and lead to additional conflicts and more bloodshed across the globe.

It feels like all-or-nothing

Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom. According to a recent survey conducted by the European Parliament, 72% of participants believed that their homelands had “benefited from EU membership”. In addition, 70% of EU citizens think that “EU actions have an impact on their daily life”. 

These figures do not suggest that most Europeans have anti-European sentiments. Instead, it indicates that they support the European collective.

Meanwhile, a recent Chatham House study also suggests that a majority of Europeans favour “policies that support the Ukrainian cause, while not supporting policies that would hinder the Ukrainian war effort,” and remain committed to taking a tough stance on Russia.

Overall, times may be changing. European citizens are increasingly becoming frustrated with their leaders and the economy, and they are hoping for changes in the new year. 


This is allowing far-right groups to succeed. And as they are gaining ground across the continent, anti-European and anti-Ukraine sentiments are growing.

This year’s election campaigns have shaken the status quo, and European voters will be anxious to see what transpires during the 2024 election season. The stakes could not be higher.

Mark Temnycky is a freelance journalist covering Eurasian affairs and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Ukrainian counteroffensive: What is President Zelenskyy waiting for?

The Ukrainian armed forces still need supplies of equipment and weapons to avoid heavy losses, says President Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian troops’ counteroffensive is delayed indefinitely as, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “more time is needed.”

The president stressed members of new brigades were fully ready, with some units having received training abroad. But the Ukrainian armed forces still need supplies of equipment and weapons to avoid heavy losses.

What is Kyiv waiting for?

Since the end of last year, there has been talk of a large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive. For security reasons, Kyiv stopped short of announcing specific dates, but experts in the West have previously suggested the start of the operation could take place any time from the end of April to the first two weeks of June.

“I think the reason why he announced it now is that expectations for this counteroffensive have quite clearly got out of hand in many circles,” says Simon Schlegel, a senior Ukraine Analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Anticipation has been very, very high. And the reason for that is probably because there is a narrative going around, especially in Russia, that Ukraine only has ‘one punch one try’ at this very complicated counteroffensive. And therefore, it’s probably a good thing right now that from the very top, that Zelenskyy himself, tries to also tone down expectations a bit.”

The Ukrainian president says his armed forces need more equipment. On 9th May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv already had everything it needed for the operation, including equipment and soldiers trained in the West, and stressed it was up to the armed forces command to draw up a plan for success.

Some experts believe the delay is because Kyiv wants to be as sure as possible of the success of any counteroffensive.

“In this situation, you cannot have enough. Simply put, it’s always better to have more especially ammunition,” says Schlegel. And both sides have been running quite low. It’s become not just a military supply issue, but an industrial issue, a production issue. And it’s possible that ammunition is currently the bottleneck that Zelenskyy wants to widen before actually risking the lives of his soldiers.”

Max Bergmann, Director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies agrees.

“We know the Ukrainians have obtained a number of tanks and they’ve obtained a number of other armoured personnel carriers and transport vehicles,” he explains. “But I’m sure they’re still waiting for more deliveries. So the question for Ukraine is, do you wait and wait for more deliveries to arrive but potentially give Russia more time to prepare for the potential counteroffensive?”

However, some Western observers believe the Ukrainian president’s statement is calculated to dupe Moscow into believing the counteroffensive has been delayed – when in fact it has already begun.

Dr Neil Melvin, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) says it’s important to understand what the word ‘counteroffensive’ actually means:

“I think often the images are kind of a shock and awe moment where all of the tanks roll forward. But actually, the counteroffensive itself is a long term process,” he says. “And I would argue that, in fact, the counteroffensive by Ukraine has already started. What they’re trying to do is shape the battlefield at the moment and they’re pulling the Russian forces in different directions. They’re trying to find gaps by probing and they’re moving their forces around.”

What kind of weapons does Ukraine need?

According to Bloomberg, since December (i.e. in preparation for a perceived counteroffensive) Ukraine has received the equivalent of $30bn of Western equipment and supplies – more than the annual military budget of any NATO country (except the US). For the entire period, the amount of aid has exceeded $67bn.

Kyiv is now talking about the need for long-range weapons, aviation and air defence systems.

On 11 May, London announced it was sending Storm Shadow tactical missiles with an estimated range of 560 km to Kiev (however, the export versions are limited to 250 km). According to experts, this is not simply just another weapons delivery, but one that could play an important role in the upcoming operation.

Melvin explains why these weapons are a potential game changer.

“Actually what they do is strike at Russia’s ability to coordinate its own defence, so what we saw earlier in the war where the United States provided Ukraine with HIMARS artillery, that was very damaging to the Russians because with this artillery the Ukrainians could destroy logistical hubs at headquarters,” he explains. “The Russians have adapted. They’ve pushed those facilities out of range of HIMARS. With these new missiles, suddenly they’re back in range.”

What some believe the success or failure of a Ukrainian counteroffensive boils down to is the ability of the Ukrainian armed forces to coordinate as accurately and quickly as possible between different units and government agencies.

“What Ukraine has to do is what’s called combined arms warfare which means linking the air force, the ground forces, the intelligence community, the political leadership and keeping in contact with this very complicated set of actors as the armed forces move forward,” Melvin continues. “So it’s not just about breaking through the Russian lines, but actually sustaining that.”

Air warfare

But there are difficulties ahead. Storm Shadow missiles are airborne and can be launched from a range of European-made aircraft – Tornado, Typhoon, Mirage 2000 and Rafale.

According to available information, Ukraine does not yet have these planes. In February, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the transfer of Typhoons to Kyiv was not impossible, and it was even reported that training of Ukrainian pilots had begun.

The Ukrainian air force already has experience of using Western missiles from Soviet aircraft. Many of these machines, adapted to NATO standards, were supplied to Ukraine by the former Warsaw Pact countries.

However, Kyiv is demanding modern Western-made fighter jets – first and foremost, the American F-16s.

According to experts, these planes simply will not make it before the spring-summer campaign and it will take too much time to train Ukrainian pilots and adapt the country’s airfield and technical infrastructure.

Secondly, it’s unlikely they would play a significant offensive role in the war, as Bergmann outlines: 

“We have to realise that Russia’s advanced fighter jets and other aircraft are not operating to the same degree as expected in this war because of Ukraine’s air defences. Russia also has substantial air defence capabilities, which would pose a threat to any Western fighters that Ukraine obtains.

“I think it’s essential that Ukraine receives fighter jets. It’s an additional form of air defence which can be used to protect Ukrainian skies, both from missiles, drones and Russian fighter jets. But here, it appears  they will play more of a defensive rather than offensive role.”

Before the full-scale invasion, the West believed that Kyiv would hold out for days or at best weeks because of the superiority of the Russian air force. But as early as 5 March, after just 10 days of war, Moscow reported that Ukraine’s air force and air defences had been suppressed and destroyed.

This was not the case. Ukraine’s air and air defence forces not only retained combat effectiveness but ultimately prevented Russia from gaining air superiority.

However, any Ukrainian counteroffensive will also face a number of other serious obstacles.

According to experts, for the first time in modern history, countries of an equal technical level have faced each other on the battlefield. Moreover, both Russia and Ukraine built their air defence system on Soviet principles. During the Cold War, the USSR created a large number of very different, ground-based air defence systems. Together they were supposed to create a theoretically impenetrable multi-levelled barrier at all altitudes and speeds. This means the Soviet pilot training school focused more on operating against a “Western” system than its own.

As a result, air defence activity at high altitudes has forced aircraft on both sides to switch to operations at ultra-low altitudes, literally just a few metres above the ground. But there, for a variety of reasons, it has proved more effective to use drones.

Will the counteroffensive prove decisive?

Many Western political analysts have not ruled out the possibility that the failure of a Ukrainian counteroffensive could lead to a reduction in Western assistance – simply because it has almost exhausted its ability to supply equipment and gear without compromising its own security. This would put pressure on Kyiv to reach a ceasefire on the terms of the status quo. 

“I think there are other aspects beyond military success that will influence how supportive Western audiences and Western governments will be in the next phase. How well Ukraine manages to reintegrate the territories they liberate. Will this create a refugee crisis, for example, in Crimea? How they treat prisoners of war, and how well they manage the dangers of escalation. I think these factors are almost as important as a pure military success that is measured in liberated territory,” Schlegel adds.

But now, alongside the readiness of Ukraine’s armed forces for a counter-offensive, there are increasing calls for long-term, strategic support for the country. Even if the armed forces fail to achieve the goals of the spring and summer campaign, the West is being called on not abandon its support for Kyiv.

Back in March, EU leaders began to seriously consider increasing the production of weapons and ammunition – especially for Ukraine.

“While it’s right to focus on the counteroffensive and making sure Ukraine has everything, I think there also needs to be a political message,” says Melvin. “In most scenarios, the counteroffensive will not end the war by the summer. So the Western community needs now to factor in that this war is going to be a long war and that Ukraine is going to need resources to continue to fight to bring it to an end. But even beyond that, even if Russia is defeated in Ukraine, Russia is likely to remain a major threat to Ukraine, but also to the wider Europe.”

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The anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive: When, where and how?

The Ukrainian military has been talking since late last year about plans for a major counter-offensive.

The Pentagon documents, if they are to be believed, indicated that the offensive was planned to start on 30 April.

In late March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were not yet ready for large-scale operations. And Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal indicated in mid-April that a counteroffensive could be expected in the summer.

When will the operation start?

Western experts are more inclined to the prime minister’s position: late autumn, or even early summer.

“They want good weather conditions so that they can conduct offensive manoeuvre operations,” said Robert Cullum, Lecturer in Defence Studies, King’s College London.

“They’ll be trying to generate and sustain their own forces, but they’ll also be trying to get ahead of Russian attempts to dig in and fortify their own position. So they’ll be trying to balance those three things off. And I think the kind of window of opportunity is within the next one to two months. So April, May, into early June.”

But even before that, there is no doubt that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will conduct battlefield reconnaissance and limited-scale operations to identify weaknesses in the Russian defence.

Possible plans by Kyiv

Ukrainian politicians and military officials say the ultimate goal should be the liberation of all Ukrainian territory, including the annexed Crimea and the territory of the separatist republics in the east of the country. But this is unlikely to be done in a single operation in the near future.


The most obvious target of a Ukrainian offensive, according to experts, could be a strike in the direction of the Sea of Azov, in the Zaporizhzhia region, around Melitopol. This could split the occupied territories in two, cut the land routes to Crimea and the Kherson region, and allow artillery to bombard the Crimean peninsula, the naval base in Sevastopol and the Crimean bridge. This is the scenario most often discussed by politicians, the military and experts alike.

But the problem here for Kyiv is that this strike direction is also obvious for Moscow. It has been repeatedly reported that Russian troops are seriously reinforcing their positions in the region.

“The problem then is the availability of forces because they have then two open flanks, one in the west towards Crimea, one in the east towards the Donbas, and they have to cover these two open flanks against Russian counter-attacks against both sides,” said Gustav Gressel, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations.

“So the deeper they go, the more forces they will need to just cover the flanks and push the offensive forward that might slow them down and that might also sort of swallow a considerable amount of forces.”

Experts consider a more realistic objective for Kyiv would be to advance 30 kilometres into the Melitopol area, so that Russian supply routes are in the range of Ukrainian artillery.

Flanks: Kherson and Luhansk

Vladimir Putin’s visit to the occupied regions of Kherson and Luhansk, which was announced on 18 April, is also linked by many experts to the preparation of defence in these directions, the flanks of the Russian grouping.

In the event of an offensive in these directions, Kyiv will have to worry less about securing its flanks, but in each case there are disadvantages.

In the Luhansk region, Kremenna, Svatove, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk could be the focus of Ukrainian strikes. Fighting in this area has been going on with varying success for a long time. However, the terrain there is wooded and rugged. Heavy Western equipment would be difficult to use in these conditions.

An offensive in the Kherson region could be the shortest route to Crimea for Ukrainian troops. But in order to do so they would have to cross the Dnieper River. The most difficult aspect, according to experts, will not be the formation operation itself, but the need to preserve and hold the crossings and bridges – which will undoubtedly become the most important target for Russian aviation and tactical missiles. Russian strikes against them could cut off and isolate the advancing Ukrainian grouping.

Air and artillery superiority

In theory, one important factor in a successful offensive should be air superiority. The advancing group, and its supply lines, must be protected during the operation.

Kyiv has repeatedly spoken of a shortage of both combat and air defence aircraft. If the same Pentagon documents that have surfaced online are to be believed, Ukraine will run out of missiles for “Soviet” long- and medium-range air defence systems by May, that is if used at the current rate, even without taking into account a possible offensive.

But this is about protection against Russian strikes on cities. For the front, according to experts, it is not such a serious problem.

“Yes, they don’t have air superiority, which is, of course, not ideal. But on the other hand, most of their reconnaissance is not done by aircraft,” said Gustav Gressel. “And also most of their strike missions are not done by aircraft like it’s done in NATO. It’s done by artillery, just like in the Russian army.”

“It’s been a very artillery intensive war,” said Robert Cullum. “Both sides have used artillery and artillery ammunition in enormous quantities, both on the attack and the defence. So another problem they have to overcome is the supply of artillery ammunition, which is a key enabler of military success in this war.”

Still, the lack of “frontline” air defence assets could significantly reduce the chances of the AFU if the Russian army makes extensive use of aircraft to counter the Ukrainian offensive, and here the West will not be able to provide significant support.

On the intelligence side, Kyiv has the advantage of access to U.S. and NATO information, as well as information from guerrillas in the occupied territories.

Pentagon leaks

However, the leaks of secret Pentagon documents could be a disadvantage for Kyiv.

“The American point of view is that the Russians now know how deep and with what means the American intelligence services can look into the Russian planning and Russian command and control structure, and they might adjust, for example, their codes or the encryption to prevent that,” said Gustav Gressel.

“ If that happens, and if Western intelligence at a time of the counter-offensive is less precise than it used to be, that would be a bad thing for Ukrainians.”

How can Russia counter the Ukrainian counter-offensive?

According to Western intelligence, Russia is fortifying almost the entire front line on Ukrainian territory, some 800 km long. These strips, according to media reports, consist of several lines of anti-tank trenches, trenches, barbed wire, obstacles and all sorts of fortified firing points.

The quality of these barriers has been questioned by Western experts; nevertheless, even in this form they will be a serious obstacle for the attackers if they do not have sufficient artillery and engineering support.

As stated above, Kyiv will need many forces to support its flanks to develop deep breaks; these forces will inevitably be redeployed from other directions, which the Russian army can take advantage of to launch counterstrikes in weakened areas.

Nuclear defence

The Kremlin has increasingly resorted to nuclear rhetoric in recent months, and at the end of March a decision was taken to deploy Russian nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus. Experts doubt Russia would resort to a nuclear strike if the Ukrainian push proved successful.

Will the Kremlin decide to use nuclear weapons if the Ukrainian offensive is successful?

“Putin will definitely think twice or three times,” said Gustave Gressel. “To be honest, I don’t believe that he will do it for any region, maybe except for Crimea, because the price is very high and the recipe for success is dubious.”

Will the counter-offensive bring a decisive result?

Ukrainian politicians periodically claim that a decisive counter-offensive in the spring and summer could bring the war to an end before the end of the year. Western experts are very cautious about this, while paying tribute to the high morale of Ukrainians.

“If they’ve achieved significant success, and I think there will be, they’ll be in a position to force the Russians to the table and perhaps extract some kind of concessions, particularly if Crimea is threatened,” said Robert Cullum.

“Putin really won’t want to lose Crimea because it’s such a symbol of his regime’s success. If the Ukrainians haven’t achieved much success, then I think they’ll be facing a lot more pressure from their allies who are really at the limit of what they’re willing to give in terms of assistance and equipment. And so Ukraine will probably face a lot more pressure to find some kind of status quo ceasefire.”

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Ukraine and its allies must agree on what victory against Russia means

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The recent trans-Atlantic debacle regarding the transfer of tanks to Ukraine — especially German-made Leopards — brought to the fore the fact that despite the immense threat posed by Russia to European security, there are still deep fractures within NATO. 

The German government finally approved the transfer of the coveted Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but only following weeks of intense political pressure on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

For that to happen, US President Joe Biden’s administration had to relent and send some of its fuel-inefficient yet powerful Abrams tanks to Ukraine. 

But why the discord?

Different theories of victory, different views on Europe’s future

To make sense of the periodic disagreements on Ukraine within the bloc, we need to look at how different NATO powers conceive the endpoint of Russia’s war. 

By my count, there are at least three broad “theories of victory” shared by different parts of the alliance. 

That is, different countries within the alliance have different ideas about what winning means in Ukraine and what concrete actions are needed to achieve that endpoint.

Poland and the Baltic countries share the same maximalist theory of victory with Ukraine. That is, they define victory in terms of the complete liberation of the Ukrainian territory illegally occupied by Russia after the bloodiest day of the Maidan Revolution in Kyiv on 20 February 2014, including the Crimean peninsula and the regions in the Donbas.

As part of this endgame, the maximalist view also includes the collapse of the President Vladimir Putin-led regime at the Kremlin — and ideally, even the collapse of the Russian state. 

To achieve this definition of victory, the countries that subscribe to this view push for increased material support for Ukraine with increasingly sophisticated weapons. 

Besides that, this group of countries advocate for an increasingly bellicose treatment of Russia, refusal of any compromise or negotiations, and intensifying international pressure on Putin’s regime.

Option two: Frustrating Russia enough to sit down for peace talks

In turn, Germany and France advance a different theory of victory. 

They define it as a negotiated settlement following talks on an equal footing between Kyiv and Moscow. 

They believe Russia cannot be completely obliterated without running the risk of a dangerous — or even nuclear — escalation. 

Simply put, it would not be advisable to have a nuclear power in chaos, provoking spillover effects and global instability.

As such, they aim to arm Ukraine with sufficient weapons to frustrate any Russian military initiative but not to eliminate potential incentives to negotiate. 

An ideal situation would be a military impasse on the front, which may force the two sides to shift to diplomacy to solve their disagreements. 

Looking at the German policy from this perspective, Scholz’s reticence to supply Ukraine with tanks makes much more sense.

Bloodying Moscow’s nose — yet letting it have Crimea

Finally, the UK and the US seem to have a slightly different theory of victory than the one prioritised by Kyiv. 

London and Washington seem to be happy to give the Kremlin a bloody nose and will support Ukraine in reclaiming its territory illegally occupied since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, including the self-proclaimed separatist states in the Donbas — but not Crimea. 

Eroding Russia’s conventional capabilities, without providing any incentives to Putin to escalate militarily by using nuclear weapons, fits neatly within Washington’s “strategic competition” framework. 

As such, the US is providing substantial military assistance to Ukraine in a gradual, planned, and well-targeted manner, seeking to slowly chip away at Russia’s conventional capabilities without leading to an escalatory reaction.

To this end, the White House has publicly stated that it will support Ukraine to reclaim only its territory lost in 2022, evading questions regarding Crimea.

Ukrainians will pay the cost of any disagreements with their lives

The contrasting theories of victory employed by different groups of NATO countries lead to increased friction between allies. 

In turn, this has hampered the entire war effort, as different countries seek to advance different paths to end the war according to their preferred definition of victory. 

Countries are reluctant to engage in initiatives or to support mobilisation actions that go against their preferred route in supporting Kyiv and ending the war.

The power differentials between the US and the UK, the western Europeans, and the northern-and-eastern Europeans play a critical role.

Of the three, the latter have been surprisingly assertive and successful in pushing their views. 

Relying on the media influence that Ukraine still enjoys worldwide and the domestic disagreements within Germany, they have been able to force Scholz’s hand.

However, all this squabbling comes with a cost that is counted in Ukrainian lives. 

As the war evolves, the contrasting theories of victory held by different NATO members will lead to recurrent conflicts that will not end up helping improve Europe’s security.

A unified agreement on what victory entails means solidified resolve to defeat Russia

Instead, what is needed is a trans-Atlantic compromise over what should be achieved in Ukraine, with the Kyiv leadership at the table. 

While Kyiv’s aims are legitimate and worthwhile, Ukrainians must also consider the implications and worries of their partners, on which they so desperately depend. 

Together, these countries need to set aside their diplo-talk and agree on a straightforward view of what would comprise victory that can be shared by everyone. 

To do otherwise risks undermining Ukraine’s and Europe’s success and future security.

The continued military support for Ukraine is beyond question, yet negotiating a shared theory of victory must not be taboo. 

If there is to be trust between partners, and if we are to overcome current squabbles, European, North American, and Ukrainian leaders must discuss frankly where the war is going, what is to be achieved, and how it should be achieved. 

Marius Ghincea is a PhD Researcher at the European University Institute in Fiesole and a Research Fellow at the Hertie School in Berlin. His research agenda focuses on the domestic politics of foreign policy, especially in the United States and Germany.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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