Ukrainian military warn Russia is preparing for major offensive that could begin this month

Heavy battles continue in eastern Donetsk region, particularly around devastated city of Bakhmut

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy held a meeting of his security chiefs on Monday amid growing warnings from the country’s military and regional officials that Russia is preparing for a major offensive that could begin this month.

Heavy battles continued in the eastern Donetsk region, particularly around the devastated city of Bakhmut, which has been at the epicentre of fighting for several months as Russia tries to make more gains before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine reaches the one-year mark on February 24th.

“The leadership of the armed forces and commanders of troops…reported on the current situation at the front. Special attention was paid to the positions of the defence forces in the Bakhmut direction and their provision with necessary munitions. The parties also heard intel on possible enemy actions in the near future,” Mr Zelenskiy’s office said of his meeting with military top brass, heads of intelligence agencies and ministers.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Ukrainian governor of the partly occupied Donetsk region, said: “Battles for the region are heating up…The Russians are throwing new units into battle and eradicating our towns and villages.”


Serhiy Haidai, his counterpart in the neighbouring Luhansk region, said Russian forces were bringing more soldiers and equipment towards the frontline, building more reinforced positions and increasing deliveries of ammunition. “But they are not using as much (ammunition) as before, it’s not round-the-clock shelling now, so we understand that they’re starting to save a little for a full-scale attack.”

Mr Haidai said hundreds of thousands of recently mobilised Russian troops were now coming to the end of their training, after which they could be deployed to occupied eastern Ukraine to take part in a new offensive. “So in principle you could expect it any time after February 15th.”

Oleksiy Reznikov, who is expected to be replaced as Ukraine’s defence minister this month, said Russian forces would not use the same approach as last winter, when they attacked from several different directions but were driven back from Kyiv and halted in eastern and southern Ukraine.

“The Russians tried the tactic of simultaneously seizing (all of) Ukraine in February last year. It didn’t work. That is, their resources were scattered and they lost many elite units. Now they have a new tactic – these are concentrated, creeping attempts to capture (territory) bit-by-bit, ten metres at a time.

“Of course it is in the Russians’ mentality to try to get to Kyiv. It is their dream to subdue Ukraine, and for this the capital must fall…But this does not mean that their dream will be realised,” he added, noting that the new offensive was most likely to target eastern and southern regions.

Russian forces say they are gaining ground near Bakhmut, while Kyiv insists that the frontline situation is under control and the city will stay in Ukrainian hands.

“We use every opportunity, in terms of engineering and nature, to destroy the best units of the enemy. The battle continues,” said Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, of the fight for Bakhmut. “The city is surrounded by commanding heights and hills, which in themselves hinder the enemy. A well-planned system of engineering barriers, combined with the natural landscape, turned this area into a real impregnable fortress.”

United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres said on Monday that Russia’s invasion was “inflicting untold suffering on the Ukrainian people, with profound global implications”.

“The prospects for peace keep diminishing. The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing. I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war – I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe