Russia has been sending reinforcements to eastern Ukraine before a new offensive It could start as early as next week along a front where incessant battles have been raging for months, a Ukrainian governor said.
Desperate for Western military aid to arrive, Ukraine foresees that Russia could launch a major offensive for “symbolic” reasons around the anniversary of the invasion, on February 24which Moscow insists on describing as a “special military operation”.
Ukraine itself is planning a spring counteroffensive to recapture lost territory, but is still awaiting delivery of promised longer-range Western missiles and tanks, with some analysts saying the country is months away from being ready.
“We are seeing how they unfold more and more (Russian) reserves in our direction, we are seeing how they bring more equipment…,” said Serhi Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the mainly Russian-occupied Luhansk province.
“They bring ammunition that is used differently to the one of before: it no longer bombards the 24 hours of the day. They are starting to save little by little, preparing for a full-scale offensive”, Haidai told Ukrainian television.
“Most likely it will take 10 days to gather reserves. After February 15 we can expect (this offensive) at any time”.
The war is reaching a turning point as its one-year anniversary approaches, with Ukraine making no gains like the second half of 2022 and Russia advancing with hundreds of thousands of reserve troops mobilized.
President Volodimir Zelensky said the personnel changes at the border and front line will bolster Ukraine’s military efforts amid uncertainty over the future of its defense minister, just as Russia advances in the east for the first time in six months.
In his speech on Monday night, Zelensky said he wanted to combine military and management experience in local and central government, but did not directly address the confusion over whether his defense minister, Oleksii Reznikovwould be replaced.
On Sunday, David Arakhamia, the head of Zelensky’s parliamentary bloc, said Reznikov would be transferred to another ministerial post, but wrote on Monday that “there will be no personnel changes in the defense sector this week.”
Zelensky says he needs to show that Ukraine is a safe steward of billions of dollars in military and other aid from the West, and his government is in the deepest political and administrative upheaval since the Russian invasion nearly a year ago.
“In several regions, especially on the border or on the front line, we will appoint leaders with military experience. Those that can be most effective in defending against existing threatshe declared.
The European Union has reported that Zelensky has been invited to take part in a summit of EU leaders, and is said to be in Brussels as soon as this week, in what would be his second known trip abroad since the invasion began.
Zelensky’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
NEW RUSSIAN OFFENSIVE
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the weekend Ukrainian Pravda that the Intelligence services suggest that any new Russian offensive would likely come from the east or south.
“His dream is to expand the land corridor to Crimea to continue supplies. So, of course, the key risks are: the east, the south, and after that the north,” he said. Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
Ukrainian defense analyst Oleksandr Kovalenko said a new Russian offensive could come from one of four directions; the eastern Luhansk region, the Donetsk region, the Zaporizhia region, and the city and port of Mariupol.
“Things are more serious in the Donetsk region, especially around Bakhmut and Avdiivka. And the Russians are going to increase their contingents thereas well as equipment and paratroopers,” Kovalenko, from the Information Resistance group think tank, told Ukrainian radio NV.
For months Russia’s main target in eastern Ukraine has been Bakhmut, where its state media said the Wagner mercenary group had gained a foothold. Ukraine said late Monday that Russian forces had trained tank, mortar and artillery fire there in the past 24 hours.
Kovalenko said that Mariupol, captured by the Russian army last May, could be used by the Russians to bring in troops and equipment for a new offensive.. “It could serve as a transportation hub for the Russian occupation forces,” he said.
Kovalenko stated that the Ukrainian counter-offensive will not happen in the short term and that the Ukrainian forces will assume a defensive position, especially in Donetsk.
“It may be an active defense, but a defensive position nonetheless. The idea will continue to be to block any Russian advance,” he said.
“Things could change more quickly in other sectors. But this situation could last from two to two and a half months: it is the time necessary to provide the brigades with tanks, train them and equip everything.”
(With information from Reuters/By Tom Balmforth and Pavel Polityuk)
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