Ukraine braced for fresh Russian offensive ahead of war anniversary

Kyiv expects Moscow to launch new attack for ‘symbolic’ reasons despite not being militarily prepared, minister says

Andy Gregory
Sunday 05 February 2023 23:53 GMT
Homes and hospital damaged in Kherson shelling

Ukraine is “ready” and able to defend itself should Vladimir Putin choose to launch a major offensive on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, Kyiv’s outgoing defence minister Oleksii Reznikov has said.

Kyiv has created the reserves to hold back Moscow’s forces, even though the latest Western military supplies will not all arrive in time for 24 February, Mr Reznikov told reporters.

But in a cruel personal twist, a top ally of president Volodymyr Zelensky indicated just hours later that Ukraine’s effort to bolster its defences would involve Mr Reznikov’s own resignation – as he announced plans to replace him with a spy chief.

Replacing the politician with an intelligence official is “absolutely logical for wartime”, said David Arakhamia, who leads Mr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, adding: “The enemy is preparing to advance. We are preparing to defend ourselves and return our own.”

Mr Arakhamia’s comments about a necessary “strengthening and regrouping” echoed those of the defence minister himself on Sunday, whose future has been the subject of intense speculation since allegations of corruption in his department first aired in Ukrainian media late in January.

“Despite everything, we expect a possible Russian offensive in February. This is only from the point of view of symbolism; it’s not logical from a military view. Because not all of their resources are ready. But they’re doing it anyway,” he said.

Mr Reznikov said the offensive would likely be launched in the east – where Russia ultimately hopes to seize all of the Donbas region, but is allegedly sustaining heavy casualties while failing to make significant advances – or in the south, where Mr Putin is seeking to widen his land corridor to Crimea.

Owners of apartments enter a residential building which was hit by a Russian rocket at the city center of Kharkiv on Sunday

He estimated that Russia had 12,000 troops in Belarusian military bases, a number which would not be enough to launch a significant attack from Belarus into Ukraine’s north, reopening a new front.

Alongside Ukraine’s warnings of a looming Russian offensive, belief in Kyiv’s own ability to defeat and drive Moscow’s forces from its territory as the battlefield begins to thaw has seen Western leaders pledge billions of pounds-worth of new military aid, including tanks and air defence systems.

“Not all of the Western weaponry will arrive in time. But we are ready,” said Mr Reznikov. “We have created our resources and reserves, which we are able to deploy and with which we are able to hold back the attack.”

The Kremlin has claimed that the supply of increasingly sophisticated weaponry will only prolong the conflict, and accused Nato of being direct participant in the war – as members of Mr Putin’s inner circle fired off a series of nuclear threats in response.

In comments perhaps made with an eye on his legacy as defence minister, Mr Reznikov took that rhetoric further on Sunday, saying: “I absolutely boldly claim that we have become a de facto Nato country. We only have a de jure part left.”

He also made the claim last month to the BBC, adding: “Why [would it be] controversial? It’s true. It’s a fact,” Mr Reznikov said. “I’m sure that in the near future, we’ll become member of Nato, de jure.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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