West should gird for long war in Ukraine, Czech army chief says

Ukrainian servicemen fire a M109 self-propelled howitzer towards Russian troops in Donetsk region

By Jan Lopatka and Michael Kahn

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The West needs to prepare for a long war in Ukraine and to deal with an increasingly hostile Russia even after it is over, Czech military chief Karel Rehka told Reuters.

After weeks in which some Western military officials have been quoted expressing concern that Ukraine's summer counter-offensive was proceeding too slowly, the chief of the general staff said during an interview at Czech military headquarters that he was not frustrated by the pace of progress.

"This is how a military offensive looks," he said. "It is not like a World War Two movie. It takes time."

Ukraine launched its counter-offensive in June and has so far captured only around a dozen small villages, though it says that in recent weeks it has pierced Russia's defensive line and expects to move more quickly. Moscow says Kyiv's offensive has already failed.

"In the overall picture, I think there is currently no capacity on either side to reach their ultimate declared objectives any time soon," Rehka said. "It won’t last a few weeks, it will last for long, probably. And it's important that we keep supporting Ukrainians for a long time."

Rehka, whose NATO member country has contributed ammunition, tanks, armoured vehicles, rocket launchers and howitzers to the Ukrainian war effort, said the Czech Republic still has arms in storage that it could provide.

"We have provided a lot considering our size and what we have in our military," He declined to say specifically what remained available in warehouses. "Believe me, we are going through different storages and plans and concepts and trying to identify what more we can provide. We still have some, including some heavy equipment."

The 48-year-old lieutenant general, who trained at Sandhurst in Britain, completed a U.S. Ranger course and served in Afghanistan, said supporting Ukraine helps the West buy time after years of underspending on defence. From 2024, Czech lawmakers have approved spending 2% of GDP on defence.

"Militarily, it makes sense because we overslept a little bit. We under-resourced and we didn’t pay enough attention to our defence, not just us as the Czech Republic but the collective Western alliance,” he said.

As a small nation, the Czechs cannot rely on an attrition approach to conflicts but would instead need a technological edge -- a reason why he said Prague was looking at purchasing fifth-generation F-35s from the United States.

Rehka, who speaks English and Russian, predicted that Moscow would act less predictably and pose a more serious threat to the West even after the Ukraine conflict ends.

At the same time, the war has spurred Western allies to take more seriously the former Soviet-era satellite nations who experienced decades of control from Moscow, he said.

"Overall, I think the Eastern Flank is a little bit more listened to right now," he said. "Many things that are now taken seriously were articulated by the Baltic states and Poland before, but no one listened."

(Writing by Michael Kahn; Editing by Jan Lopatka and Peter Graff)