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Ukraine fights narrative battle as counteroffensive stalls NBC

Kiev and its supporters are reportedly worried about perceptions in the West

Faced with a lack of progress on the battlefield, the government in Kiev has taken up a public relations battle in the West, NBC News reported on Friday, citing several US and Ukrainian officials.

As some US officials are "frustrated at the pace" of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Kiev and some of its backers "worry about losing control of the narrative," according to NBC.

"If the perception gets out there that the Ukrainians can't win, then we're not going to provide them the stuff they need to win," former US ambassador to Kiev William Taylor told the outlet, warning of a "self-fulfilling prophecy."

Nikodem Rachon, spokesman for the Polish embassy in Washington, told NBC that Russia "exploits" Ukraine's lack of battlefield success in propaganda, "aiming to weaken the unity of countries supporting Ukraine."

President Vladimir Zelensky himself has admitted the "slower pace" of the counteroffensive, blaming the West for delayed deliveries of weapons and ammunition that gave the Russians time to dig in. Deputy Defense Minister Anna Maliar recently claimed gains of "about 241 square kilometers" of territory, which NBC described as "less than 100 square miles."

Some US officials who spoke to the outlet, however, "privately expressed disappointment" that Kiev seems to be holding back on using some of its best-equipped and trained units, or applying the NATO tactics they were taught.

"There is a frustration that they have not used more of the combat power that they have," said one official, who remained anonymous. Another insisted that the US and its allies have provided Ukraine with "everything it requested" for the offensive, including 500 tanks and "hundreds" of armored vehicles.

Yuri Sak, an adviser to Ukrainian Defense Minister Aleksey Reznikov, countered that Kiev is trying to preserve its troops and weapons while probing for a weak point in Russia's defenses.

"The two things that we keep asking our allies for are weapons and patience," Sak told NBC.

The Russian Defense Ministry reported on Friday that Ukraine had lost more than 43,000 troops and over 4,900 pieces of heavy weaponry over the course of June and July, including German-made tanks, US-made infantry fighting vehicles, and 747 pieces of artillery.

British intelligence has blamed "weeds and shrubs" growing along the line of contact for slowing down Ukraine's armor. Kiev officials have latched onto another talking point, however. Leonid Polyakov, a former deputy defense minister of Ukraine who now works for a think tank advising President Vladimir Zelensky, told NBC that Ukraine can't properly follow US military doctrine without air support.

"We have launched a counteroffensive without any kind of air superiority - not in the air force, not in drones, not in helicopters," Polyakov said. He told a story about two Ukrainian brigades that launched unsupported attacks in June and July and got "shredded" by Russian defenses.

"We wouldn't do it. We've never done it and yet we're asking them to do it," agreed ex-ambassador Taylor, who fought in Vietnam as an infantry officer.

The US and its allies are currently training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighters, but no country has pledged to actually deliver the jets just yet.