The Ukrainian government is sounding the alarm ahead of the upcoming one-year Feb.24 anniversary of the Russian invasion, saying that Kremlin forces are amassing more troops on the border in preparation for a major new offensive. The warnings comes amid widespread reports that Russian forces are gearing up for an inevitable Spring offensive.
In a Wednesday interview with a French media outlet Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov claimed that Putin has ordered a whopping 500,000 troops to ready the new assault in the coming weeks.
"Officially, they announced 300,000, but when we see the troops at the borders, according to our assessments it is much more," he said.
And separately, Yuriy Sak, a senior defense ministry official, told NBC News on Thursday that "We should understand that the threat of a new and another offensive will remain until we defeat Russia."
Ukraine expects the attacks to happen from the east and south: "As their main forces are concentrated in the east, we do expect them to begin an offensive there, perhaps around Bakhmut," Sak said.
And President Zelensky in his latest evening video address to the nation said, "The situation has become tougher" in the area, and further that "The enemy is trying to achieve at least something now to show that Russia has some chances on the anniversary of the invasion."
Kiev and the US are also keeping a close watch on the recent Russian military drills in neighboring Belarus. "Russia is preparing for maximum escalation," defense minister Danilov had also told UK media this week. "It is gathering everything possible, doing drills and training."
If the assessments are accurate, the Kremlin likely wishes to keep its positive momentum strong amid an intense fight for Bakhmut, especially before the arrival of Western-supplied main battle tanks. Russia has warned it is prepared to escalate in response. Russian troops, including Wagner mercenaries, are on the brink of having the city encircled.
1)On the outskirts Bakhmut, Ukrainian and Russian Armies are fighting practically from adjacent houses— Яннис В.Зброек (@yanvonzeebroeck) January 31, 2023
On the outskirts of Bakhmut, clashes take place practically at point-blank range — judging by the video, pic.twitter.com/2G5NhehWiN
"Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization that is leading the assault in Ukraine’s east, said Wednesday that his forces had seized the village of Sacco and Vanzetti, north of Bakhmut," writes The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. "Rybar, a Telegram channel linked to the Kremlin, said Thursday that Wagner was claiming territory on the contested east side of the city, expanding control around a sparkling-wine factory and a meat-processing plant."
Total control of Bakhmut could make pacification of the whole of Donetsk much easier - though at the moment both the Russian and Ukrainian sides are suffering heavy losses.