‘Russia is preparing for maximum escalation’, Ukraine warns
Ukraine today warned Russia is preparing for a ‘maximum escalation’ of the war as Kyiv braces itself for Moscow’s highly-anticipated springtime three-pronged offensive.
Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, said Vladimir Putin could be planning another simultaneous attack on the country from the north, south and east on February 24 to coicincide with the anniversary of the war’s beginning.
Danilov warned that the bloodiest battles are ‘yet to come’ and they will happen within the next few months, in what will be a ‘defining’ moment of the war.
He told Sky News: ‘Russia is preparing for maximum escalation. It is gathering everything possible, doing drills and training.
Oleksiy Danilov (pictured), Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, said Vladimir Putin could be planning another simultaneous attack on the country from the north, south and east on February 24 to coicincide with the anniversary of the war’s beginning
Ukrainian servicemen adjust a 60mm mortar tube near the frontline in the Donetsk region on Tuesday
Ukrainian serviceman Myroslav, 23, walks in a trench near a frontline position in the Donetsk region on Tuesday
‘When it comes to an offensive from different directions, as for now, I can say that we are not excluding any scenario in the next two to three weeks.’
Russia is anticipated to have launched a major assault, ordering forces south from Belarus, north from Crimea and east from the Donbas to encircle and strangle Kyiv forces.
Danilov said Putin could launch his three-pronged offensive on Ukraine on the anniversay of the war on February 24. ‘We do understand everything is on the table,’ he said.
Speaking about whether the worst is yet to come on the battlefield, Danilov said: ‘Of course, we went through an extensive difficult period, but I’m conscious that the main fights are yet to come and they will happen this year within two to three months.
‘These will be defining months in the war. We have our own plans and they are clear to us. They’re not hidden from our main partners.’
His comments came after Ukraine’s top general, Valery Zaluzhny, told the Economist last month that Russia was preparing 200,000 fresh troops for a major offensive that could come from the east, south or even from Belarus in the spring.
Russian army soldiers practice on a military training ground in Russian-controlled Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on Tuesday
While Germany, US and other Western nations including Britain have said they will send fourth-generation battle tanks to Ukraine, it will take months for them to arrive.
The process could even leave Ukraine stranded without the hi-tech weaponry until after Moscow orders its highly-anticipated springtime three-pronged offensive.
The US does not even have a ready supply of M1 Abrams tanks to deliver and will need to procure some of their fleet, while German defence minister Boris Pistorius said their Leopard 2 tanks will not be ready until the end of March or early April.
Military analysts say more aid is crucial if Ukraine is to block an expected Russian spring offensive and launch its own effort to push back Russian forces.
But Danilov is certain that Ukraine will win the war. ‘We will definitely win due to having all the world’s support behind us,’ he said.
Meanwhile, one of Russia’s top spies forecast on Wednesday that the NATO military alliance would fail to inflict a ‘strategic defeat’ on Moscow, despite sending billions of dollars worth of weapons and military hardware to Ukraine.
Sergei Naryshkin, who heads up Russia’s SVR Foreign Intelligence Service and is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, accused NATO of upping the ante in the conflict by supplying Kyiv with more advanced weapons.
‘NATO is raising the stakes because they still have dreams of a strategic defeat over Russia,’ Naryshkin said in a televised interview with the state-run RIA news agency released on Wednesday. ‘But this will not happen’.
His comments come as the United States is readying its latest package of military aid for Ukraine, worth some $2 billion.
Supplies are expected to include rockets with a range of up to 150 kilometres (94 miles) for the first time.
Washington has previously been hesitant to supply Kyiv with such long-range weapons, apparently fearing they could be used in attacks on Russia itself, which could bring Moscow and NATO closer to the brink of direct conflict.
Naryshkin criticised Washington’s latest promises of military aid, saying Moscow had ‘taken note of the expansion in both the volume and the range of military equipment being supplied’.
He said the United States and its allies were ‘determined to wage war with Russia to the last Ukrainian’.
Following promises by the United States, Germany and several other European countries to deliver dozens of tanks to Ukraine, Russian officials such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov have accused NATO countries of taking a more active role in the war.
Kyiv and the West say military supplies are vital to help Ukraine defend itself against what they say is an illegal war of aggression being waged by Russia which sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February last year in what it called a ‘special military operation.’
Meanwhile, on the front lines, Russian forces are making incremental gains in their push to take territory in Ukraine’s eastern province of Donetsk, focusing on the town of Bakhmut north of the regional capital.
Having finally persuaded NATO countries to supply the modern battle tanks, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government is now lobbying hard for some of Ukraine’s neighbours and Western allies to supply fighter jets.
A Russian army soldier shoots as an instructor stands near during a practice on a military training ground in Russian-controlled Donetsk region on Tuesday
In Paris after meeting Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said ‘there was no taboo’ about supplying Kyiv with fighter planes.
The United States and Britain have thus far rejected the idea but repeated their willingness to continue military support to Ukraine.
The West has so far refused to send weapons that could be used to attack deep inside Russia for fear of starting a wider conflict although Moscow has denounced recent Western pledges of weapons as provocations.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut came under renewed fire as did Klishchiivka and Kurdyumivka, villages on the southern approaches to the town, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement on Tuesday night.
Bakhmut has suffered a relentless bombardment for months, as Russian forces resorted to the same destructive tactics they used to capture two cities further north – Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk – in June and July.
Russian forces on Tuesday made no headway in attempts to advance on Avdiivka, the second focal point of Russian attacks in Donetsk region, Kyiv’s military general staff said.
Russian forces also tried to advance near Lyman, a town further north in Donetsk region that was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in October, the military said.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said on YouTube that Russian forces in the area were regrouping and bringing in conscripts in what he called a ‘conveyor of death.’
‘We inflict as much damage as possible and they are forced to bring in new forces in order to keep up the constant attacks on our troops,’ he said.
‘Conscripts cannot keep up the pace of previous assaults … Their physical abilities are not up to the task and their motivation is a lot weaker.’
Russia was reaching further west in Donetsk by firing on the town of Vuhledar and a half dozen other towns and villages, the Ukraine military said. Vuhledar is about 148 km (90 miles) southeast of the main fighting in and around Bakhmut.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said the Russian force in the new Vuhledar assault was at least the size of a brigade, a unit typically comprising several thousand troops.
In neighbouring Luhansk region, a planned Ukrainian advance had slowed and an attack to liberate the town of Svatovo had been delayed due to bad weather, the military commander in the sector, Yuri Federenko, told Espreso TV.
Wagner mercenaries and ‘special forces dressed in Ukrainian uniforms’ who could speak Ukrainian were active in the area, he said.