By Olena Harmash and Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russian forces will continue through the onset of cold and wet weather later this year, even though it would become harder to fight, Kyiv's intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said on Saturday.
Ukraine launched a much-vaunted counteroffensive this summer that has retaken more than a dozen villages in the south and east over three months, but has been complicated by vast minefields and heavily entrenched Russian forces.
"Combat actions will continue in one way or another. In the cold, wet and mud, it is more difficult to fight. Fighting will continue. The counteroffensive will continue," Budanov said.
The comments, made at a conference in Kyiv hosted by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, offer the strongest indication to date that Ukraine does not plan to halt its push when the weather turns later this year.
The West supplied billions of dollars of military equipment and trained up thousands of Ukrainian fighters for the counteroffensive to help Kyiv try to regain territory.
But the slow progress of the counteroffensive has sparked concerns among Kyiv's supporters that the West could struggle to maintain the scale of military aid to keep Ukraine battling on at the same intensity.
Vadym Skibytskyi, an official from Ukraine's military spy agency, said earlier on Saturday that Russia currently had 420,000 servicemen inside Ukraine.
The push in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, now centred around the villages of Robotyne and Verbove, is seen as a crucial part of an operation that seeks to split Russia's occupying forces in half in the south, but remains far from that goal.
"Our counteroffensive is happening in several directions," Budanov said, acknowledging that progress had been slower than he had wanted and describing the situation as difficult.
Apart from the huge concentration of Russian mines, he identified the large of number of small Russian "kamikadze" drones as a key factor that had slowed Ukraine's progress so far.
Russia, which launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, has said that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has failed.
(Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mike Harrison)