Britain’s top diplomat has sounded a note of caution about Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive, dampening expectations while calling on western allies to continue supporting Kyiv.

What did he say?

Speaking at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, said: “They [Ukraine] have demonstrated themselves to be very, very effective defenders of their country, but we need to recognize that there might not be a simple, quick, decisive breakthrough.

“I hope and expect they will do very, very well, because whenever I've seen the Ukrainians they have outperformed expectations.

“But we have to be realistic. This is the real world; this is not a Hollywood movie,” he said.

Why has he said this?

There’s a lot of hype around the counteroffensive – it’s going to be big, full of western-supplied weaponry and the build-up to it has been months-long.

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Expectation management is a key part the preparations – what exactly does a successful counteroffensive look like?

The total defeat of Russia in the coming months is highly unlikely and Ukraine is hoping to be able to liberate enough Russian-occupied territory to demonstrate that western military support has been worth the investment and should continue.

Cleverly’s comments have one eye on the longer-term, particularly on the political landscape in the U.S. Britain has been at the forefront of support for Ukraine and was the first to send Western tanks to Kyiv. And President Joe Biden's administration on Tuesday announced another $1.2 billion in US military aid.

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The objective of the Summit was to develop strategies that would enhance support for Ukraine and safeguard its interests amid unparalleled security and existential threats.

While Ukraine’s western allies continue to hold off on some items on Ukraine’s wish-list including long-range missiles and fighter-jets, seeking to avoid a more direct Western confrontation with Moscow, some Republicans are suggesting they’d be far more restrained in their support.

Anti-Ukraine sentiment is simmering in Florida, as Kyiv post reported this week.

 And former president Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner to challenge Biden next year, has voiced skepticism about aid for Ukraine and predicted a Russian victory.

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 Without commenting directly on the 2024 US election, Cleverly said it was critical to commit in the long term to Ukraine. “If we signal to the world that we have only about 18 months’ worth of staying power, then we create a more dangerous environment for the future,” he said.

What do people in Kyiv think?

A mixture of weariness that the war is now into its second year, hope Ukraine can achieve significant success, but a realization that Cleverly is right – it’s unlikely to be “decisive.”

“Obviously everyone is waiting for the counteroffensive because everyone is tired of war,” 46-yeard-old Natalia told Kyiv Post at the end of last month.

“And everybody hopes it's going to be successful. I don't think it will end the war and a large part of our territory will be under occupation, but we will liberate more of our land.”

What are the biggest barriers to a successful counteroffensive?

As Kyiv Post has previously reported, logistics, Russians and expectation management.

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As we’ve already covered the last one, let’s look at…

Logistics

It will be vital that Ukraine’s military logistics chains which, up to now, have been organized to deliver combat supplies to a relatively static fighting line can deliver the supplies needed to maintain, what is hoped to be, fast-advancing combat units is a yet to be answered question. “AFU logisticians have never had to attempt that before,” said Florian Blanaru, a retired Romanian army operations officer.

“The supply chain goes all the way back to NATO countries. Spare parts, ammunition, replacement components; the right item has to get to the right unit at the right time or there will be delays and an attacking unit will fight less efficiently or have to stop,” Blaranu said.

Russians

In this next phase the AFU will be attempting its first-ever large-scale, comprehensive, combined arms full-scale attack against Russian forces that have had months to prepare for the assault. In war, things go wrong. As Dwight D Eisenhower said: “Every battle is going to surprise you, no plan survives contact with the enemy.”

 Western analysts are generally generally optimistic that once the AFU kicks off their ground assaults, even against heavily defended sectors, the combination of NATO training and equipment, along with Ukrainian soldiers’ motivation and morale, would more than likely allow Ukrainian units to break through or even overrun Russian positions, potentially causing Kremlin forces to suffer severe losses in men, equipment and fighting vehicles.

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 Despite the difficulties ahead, Cleverly called on Western powers “to have the resolve to continue to do the right thing” no matter how the offensive progresses, including the prospect of “escalatory words” from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 “If we don’t, what’s at stake is of immeasurable importance,” he said.

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