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Interview | Reznikov to ERR: This year will bring Ukraine positive changes

In an interview with ERR's "Ukraina Stuudio," Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that the frontline town of Bakhmut is still standing like a fortress, giving Ukraine time to prepare for the counteroffensive.

Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (Reform) initiated the discussion with European partners at the Stockholm conference in Sweden over the need for additional ammunition for Ukraine's armed forces. "This war is a war of resources," Reznikov told ERR. "We have the resources of the civilized world on our side, including the countries of Europe. That is why the decision taken is very very very important. I would say, crucial," he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has previously said that Ukraine uses four times fewer artillery shells per day than Russia. Reznikov explained that this is because Ukraine employs more precise NATO-standard artillery, such as the 155 caliber, whereas Russia employs systems from the former Soviet Union with a caliber of 152 or 122 millimeters. "This is not a war between small and large Soviet armies. There are two different armies here. We are modern, sophisticated and more inventive, that is why we are trying to use less," he said.

However, despite Ukraine's efforts to reduce its ammunition use, Ukraine's current ammunition use still outpaces Western ammunition production. He emphasized that the West needs to begin producing more ammunition as it is a war necessity: "We are fighting for European values," he said, "we are the eastern shield of Europe and NATO. We are already a de facto NATO country, as much of our ammunition and weaponry comes from NATO countries."

Poland and Slovakia have supplied Ukraine with MiG aircraft, some of which have been used in combat. The MiG-29 has a visual range of 60 kilometers and a firing range of 30 kilometers, according to Reznikov, while Russia's Su-35 has ranges of 200 and 100 kilometers, respectively. In order to strengthen the Ukrainian air force further, "the government is trying to persuade its partners that we need modern platforms, such as the Falcon or Gripen," Reznikov said, adding that they are also trying to persuade partners about the importance of starting pilot training as soon as possible.

Ukrainians were trained to operate Patriot anti-aircraft systems, for example, in ten weeks rather than a year, and that the same speed could be expected when training Ukrainian pilots, he said.

Reznikov then spoke about the use of Leopard tanks: "It depends on the weather conditions. In the spring we have very wet ground. /.../ I think we will see them [Leopards] in April or May," he said.

Reznikov went on to say that President Zelenskyy's visit to Bakhmut's frontline defenders earlier this week was not extraordinary. "He has previously visited Lassiechansk, Severodonetsk and the southern frontline," he said, "and he [Zelenskyy] will continue to visit our troops. He understands he must be able to look them in the eye, speak with them and shake their hand."

"The war has lasted more than a year. It is both mentally and physically demanding; that's why we try to rotate the soldiers," Reznikov said. "For example, I can only sleep 3–4 hours a day. It has become a habit."

According to Reznikov, Bakhmut has been under Russian attack since May of last year, but it remains a fortress. "We have reduced their [Russians'] offensive capability and stabilized the front, allowing us to prepare for a counteroffensive," he said.

"They [the Russians] have suffered heavy losses, with at least 500 soldiers killed or wounded every day. This means that each day brings our victory and their defeat closer."

In response to a question about a food-supply-related corruption scandal that has broken out in Ukraine, Reznikov said that there is no evidence of corruption. "Rather, there was a debate about the efficient spending of money on food for soldiers." He went on to explain that he began implementing post-Soviet legacy reforms as a minister in 2021, but the full-scale invasion began two and a half months later.

"I had to continue reforming the ministry while the war was going on. We are still doing it; we are continuing the reforms because they are critical to the future of our country. It is critical to our future as a member of the European Union," he said.

Estonia has had money problems with Ukrainian aid organizations, which has had an impact on people who want to help Ukraine. Reznikov said that Ukraine still needs all the help it can receive and emphasized that they fight for European values. "We are fighting for the European security architecture. We are fighting as a country with democratic values against autocracy, against Russia."

While Vladimir Putin talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping to build an alliance that could also include Iran and North Korea, Reznikov believes that China will use Russia's resources, such as oil, gas, and timber, but will not openly collaborate with Russia in this war.

"I think we will see very very positive changes for Ukraine this year," he said. Ukraine will continue to liberate the temporarily occupied territories, "as was done in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Kherson and Zmiinyi (Snake) Island. This trend will continue."

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Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa

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