Ukraine has recaptured half the territory seized by Vladimir Putin since Russia invaded more than a year ago, the US said yesterday.
However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned troops were locked in ferocious battles and faced “a very hard fight” to win back further ground.
He said: “Ukraine has already taken back about 50 percent of what was initially seized. These are still relatively early days of the counter-offensive. It is tough.
“It will not play out over the next week or two. We’re still looking, I think, at several months.”
Putin claimed at the weekend that Ukraine’s counter-offensive had failed. And Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted progress against Russian forces had so far been “slower than desired”.
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Although troops have recaptured some villages in the south and areas around the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut, they have not had a major breakthrough against heavily defended Russian lines.
Asked if Kyiv will get US-made F-16 fighter jets, Mr Blinken said he believed it would.
He added: “And the important focus is on making sure that when they do, they’re properly trained, they’re able to maintain the planes, and use them in a smart way.”
Eleven nations will begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly the jets in Denmark next month. A training centre will also be set up in Romania.
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Kyiv has long appealed for the Lockheed Martin-built F-16s, but US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has said there was still no final decision on sending the aircraft.
America, which has given Ukraine more than $41billion in military aid since Russia invaded last February, estimate it will take at least 18 months for training and to deliver the planes.
Meanwhile, Russia still holds swathes of territory in Ukraine’s south and east.
Kyiv’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, said 4.6 square miles of southern territory had been retaken in the past week and troops were advancing towards the cities of Melitopol and Berdiansk.
The military said there had been 35 clashes towards the east in the past 24 hours.
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