By Max Hunder
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russian forces in the southern Kherson region is proving more difficult than it was in the northeast because of wet weather and the terrain, Ukraine’s defence minister said on Wednesday.
Kyiv’s forces are piling pressure on Russian troops in the strategically important Kherson region occupied by Moscow since the start of its Feb. 24 invasion, threatening President Vladimir Putin with another big battlefield setback.
“First of all, the south of Ukraine is an agricultural region, and we have a lot of irrigation and water supply channels, and the Russians use them like trenches,” Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told a news conference. “It’s more convenient for them.”
“The second reason is weather conditions. This is the rainy season, and it’s very difficult to use fighting carrier vehicles with wheels,” he said, adding that this reduced the options for Ukraine’s armed forces.
“The counter-offensive campaign in the Kherson direction is more difficult than in the Kharkiv direction,” he added.
Reznikov declined to elaborate when pressed on Kyiv’s plans in the south.
The prospect of a new setback for Russia after its troops retreated from Kyiv and later in the northeast has fuelled fears Moscow could use a nuclear weapon. Putin has warned repeatedly that Russia has the right to defend itself using all its arms.
However, Reznikov said: “My personal opinion is that Putin won’t use nukes.”
Moscow, which has the world’s largest nuclear stockpile, has launched waves of conventional missile and drone strikes targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since Oct. 10. Kyiv says they have damaged up to 40% of the power system.
Temperatures can fall far below zero degrees Celsius in winter, now just weeks away, and Kyiv has urged foreign partners to step up their deliveries of air defences to help.
Reznikov said he expected Ukraine to take delivery of sophisticated anti-aircraft NASAMS systems provided by the United States in the next 10 days.
(Reporting by Max Hunder; writing Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones)