Ukraine’s counteroffensive may be progressing more slowly than hoped, but Russia’s forces have also been stymied — one of several signals that Britain’s defense minister on Wednesday said showed that “Russia is not as strong as you think it is.”
Defense Minister Ben Wallace described how Russia’s troops have retreated in some places along the front line in Ukraine, with little backup from reserve forces.
He said Russia recently lost an estimated 2,500 tons of ammunition when a depot was blown up by one of the long-range missiles that Britain gave to Ukraine. He did not elaborate, and the claim has not been independently verified.
Speaking with journalists on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Mr. Wallace also made a series of off-the-cuff, occasionally stinging remarks about the war in Ukraine. He derided the officials overseeing Russia’s war effort — Sergei K. Shoigu, the defense minister, and Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of general staff — as “Laurel and Hardy.” And he said that China, which has maintained a close partnership with Moscow, viewed Russia as “the embarrassing uncle you don’t really want to get too close to.”
He also suggested that Ukrainian officials tone down some of their demands for military aid and express more appreciation for Western allies that have spent tens of billions of dollars to supply Ukraine with weapons and training.
“There is a slight word of caution here, which is, whether we like it or not people want to see gratitude,” Mr. Wallace said.
“You know, we’re not Amazon,” Mr. Wallace went on. He said Britain has given Ukraine so many mine-clearing vehicles that “I think there’s none left.”
He rapped Ukraine for renewing its request for American long-range missiles “within minutes” of being given cluster munitions last week. The munitions have been banned by more than 100 countries because they have been shown to kill children and other civilians who accidentally detonate them years after they are deployed.
Referring to next year’s presidential elections in the United States, Mr. Wallace suggested that the Ukrainian officials remember that they must “persuade doubting politicians in other countries that it’s worth it” to continue bankrolling Kyiv’s war effort.
In his own remarks to journalists in Vilnius a short time later, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine expressed “gratitude” for the support he has received from the United States and other NATO nations — but that he still planned to renew his request for the long-range missiles known as ATACMS at a meeting with Mr. Biden later on Wednesday.