(Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told CNN he wanted a counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces to have started sooner than it did in June and that he had urged Western allies to quicken the supply of weapons for that mission, according to excerpts via a translator released on Wednesday.

“I wanted our counteroffensive to happen much earlier, because everyone understood that if the counteroffensive unfolds later, then a bigger part of our territory will be mined,” Zelenskiy said. “We give our enemy the time and possibility to place more mines and prepare their defensive lines.”

He said difficulties in the battlefield had led to Ukrainian forces slowing down the counteroffensive, which is aimed at reclaiming territory in eastern and southern Ukraine seized by Russia since its February 2022 invasion began.

The Ukrainian leader has consistently pushed the United States and other Western allies to supply his armed forces with more sophisticated weaponry, such as U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets and longer range missiles.

He did so again in the CNN interview while also thanking Washington and the European allies for their support.

“It’s not even about the Ukrainian advantage in the sky over the Russians,” Zelenskiy said. “This is only about being equal. F-16s help not only those on the battlefield to move forward. It is simply very difficult without cover from the air.”

Last week, Zelenskiy said the counteroffensive was “slower than desired”, without getting too specific but he said advances had been made “in all directions”.

Reuters was unable to verify the situation on the battlefield. Russia has not acknowledged Ukrainian gains and has said Ukraine’s forces are suffering heavy casualties.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will be attempting to consolidate his power following a short-lived mutiny on June 24 by Wagner Group mercenaries led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, Zelenskiy said. Prigozhin has gone into exile in Belarus after striking a deal with Putin.

“After all these events, where did Putin go?” asked Zelenskiy. “He rarely comes outside to the street. We see him in his offices, etc., but we never see him out and about.”

Days after the mutiny, Putin appeared in public to tell about 2,500 Russian security personnel at a ceremony on a square in the Kremlin complex in Moscow that the people and the armed forces stood together in opposition to the rebel mercenaries.

“You have saved our motherland from upheaval. In fact, you have stopped a civil war,” he said.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Sandra Maler and Jacqueline Wong)

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