Ukraine knows the West can give more aid and weapons to Kyiv because “warehouses in Western countries are not completely empty”, the country’s chief spymaster has said.
Maj Gen Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, said the country must prepare to build up its arsenal in order to outlast Russia, which he predicted could run out of weapons in 2026.
But he told The Economist that Ukraine could not do this without Western governments because its domestic arms industry had been blighted by decades of corruption, underinvestment and sabotage. “We are dependent on external players,” he said. “Russia is mostly dependent on itself.”
On Monday, Ukrainian forces hit the headquarters of the Russian-appointed administration in the city of Donetsk.
Pro-Kremlin sources described an attack by a multi-launch rocket system, while footage of the aftermath of the strike showed thick smoke rising from the building in the city centre. Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed governor, confirmed the blast but said no one had been killed or wounded.
Recent gains by Kyiv’s troops around the Donetsk village of Opytne put them within less than 10 miles of the region’s occupied capital.
On Monday, Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said troops had broken through Russian defences near the eastern city of Bakhmut after they had recaptured the nearby village of Klishchiivka.
“Fierce fighting continues in the area of Bakhmut... As a result of the successful actions of our troops, the enemy’s defence line was broken,” he said.
Fresh assaults were launched against Russian-held tree lines to the north and east of the settlement as troops press towards the next town to the south.
Maj Gen Budanov acknowledged that a long war would be particularly dangerous, given that Ukraine was also running down its own resources.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, will this week will fly to New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, where he will urge allies to remain steadfast in their military support.
His diplomatic dash comes as Ukrainian officials have warned of a potential shift in the level of backing for Kyiv.
Criticism of Ukraine’s counter-offensive by anonymous officials led some to fear that ammunition deliveries could soon dry up, effectively ending the assault, but Maj Gen Budanov insisted he had “good intelligence” on the political mindset in the West.
“It’s still absolutely undecided how long the West will be able to maintain a sufficient supply of resources to us,” he said. “Warehouses in Western countries are not completely empty, no matter what anyone says. We can see this very clearly as an intelligence agency.”
The domestic production of drones and long-range missiles has enabled Kyiv’s armed forces to be less reliant on its Western partners for strikes inside Russia, which are particularly controversial in the US.
While some in Washington have warned of escalation, Ukraine’s spy chief said the strikes were designed to exhaust Russia’s air defence systems, disable military transport and bomber aircraft and put a dent in the Kremlin’s military production facilities.
The war in Ukraine is expected to shift to a new phase in a month when the annual “muddy season” largely brings offensive manoeuvres to a halt.
But Maj Gen Budanov said Ukrainian forces still might be able to sever Vladimir Putin’s land bridge between occupied Crimea and mainland Russia before then. “Contrary to what the Russian Federation declares, it has absolutely no strategic reserve,” he added.
Moscow has redeployed experienced fighters, including elite paratroopers, to bolster its defences in the southern Zaporizhzhia region where Ukraine is pressing hardest.
A British defence intelligence briefing, shared on social media on Monday, said Russia was likely to have concentrated “around 10,000 elite paratroopers” within several kilometres of the frontline village of Robotyne but added: “However, almost all units are highly likely dramatically under strength.”
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency is planning a deterrence and retaliation strategy to counter Russia’s expected winter campaign of long-range strikes on critical infrastructure. “Let them start,” said Maj Gen Budanov. “They will receive an answer.”
It came as America’s most senior military leader said the war is unlikely to end quickly because it is a “very high bar” for Ukraine to expel Russian forces.
“There’s well over 200,000 Russian troops in Russian-occupied Ukraine. This offensive, although significant, has operational and tactical objectives that are limited, in the sense that they do not – even if they are fully achieved – kick out all the Russians, which is the broader strategic objective that President Zelensky had,” General Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told CNN.
“That’s going to take a long time to do that. That’s going to be very significant effort over a considerable amount of time.”