Zelensky expects Russian offensive in northeast Ukraine to intensify

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an exclusive interview with AFP on Friday he expects Russia to step up its offensive in the northeast and warned Kiev only has a quarter of the air defences it needs to hold the front line.

Russian forces, which made only moderate advances in recent months, launched a surprise assault in Kharkiv region on May 10 that has resulted in their biggest territorial gains in a year-and-a-half.

Zelensky said Russian troops managed to advance between five to 10 kilometers (3-6 miles) along the northeastern border before being stopped by Ukrainian forces, but added that the region could be the "first wave" in a wider offensive.

"I won't say it's a great success (for Russia) but we have to be sober and understand that they are going deeper into our territory," he said, speaking from Kiev in his first interview with foreign media since the offensive began.

Zelensky said the situation in Kharkiv region has been "controlled" but "not stabilised".

He doubled down on pleas to allies to send more air defence and fighter jets to combat Russia's air superiority as the war grinds through its third year.

"Today, we have about 25 percent of what we need to defend Ukraine. I'm talking about air defence," he said.

Ukraine needs "120 to 130" F-16 fighter jets or other advanced aircraft to achieve air "parity" with Russia, Zelensky said.

  Kharkiv offensive 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a trip to China this week the northeastern offensive was in retaliation for Ukraine's shelling of border regions and that Moscow was trying to create a "security zone".

Russian forces have taken 278 square kilometers (107 square miles) between May 9 and 15,...

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