Statements about the forthcoming counter-offensive are increasing in Ukrainian military circles. But there could also be a confusion strategy behind it.
High-ranking Ukrainian officials are hinting that the widely awaited counterattack to recapture Russian-held territory will soon begin. The offensive could begin “tomorrow, the day after or in a week,” National Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told the BBC. Danilov went on to say that “Kiev cannot go wrong” because it is a historic opportunity “that we cannot miss”.
Meanwhile, the supreme commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, Valery Zalushny, posted a video online showing Ukrainian soldiers taking an oath and preparing for battle, writing: “The time has come to take back what is ours.”
Speculations about timing
There has been speculation about a Ukrainian counter-offensive for weeks. It was repeatedly announced by the Ukrainian side, but without naming possible places or a time. In the past few weeks there have already been several attacks on Russian military depots and infrastructure – sometimes far behind the front line. This has already fueled speculation about preparations for a Ukrainian counterstrike. The Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said that Ukraine’s preparations for the planned spring offensive were “in the final phase”.
However, it cannot be ruled out that the statements from Ukraine are intended to put pressure on and unsettle the Russian military leadership. “Much of what is happening is not taking place in public. The goal of this confusion is clearly to throw Moscow off balance,” wrote CNN journalist Nick Patton Walsh in an analysis a few days ago.
Pressure also comes from another direction. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian Wagner Group, said on Telegram: “I assume that the offensive (of the Ukrainians) has started.” Above all, there is an increase in Ukrainian activities “along the borders” in the area around Bakhmut. However, Prigozhin’s statements can also be seen as a means of putting pressure on the Russian military leadership. The mercenary chief has repeatedly criticized decisions made in Moscow.
Preparatory operations for counter-offensive
Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told the Guardian that preparatory operations such as the destruction of Russian depots and supply routes had already begun. “It’s a complicated process that’s not about a specific day, date or hour,” Mykhailo Podolyak said in the interview. “It’s an ongoing process of liberation and certain processes are already taking place, like destroying supply lines or blowing up depots behind the lines.” The intensity has increased, but it will take some time.
He sees the possibility that partisans could advance into Russian territory with the beginning of a counter-offensive. A few days ago, paramilitary militias from the Russian Volunteer Corps group crossed the Ukrainian border and advanced into the Belgorod region. In the meantime, the Russian militias are apparently back in Ukraine. Podoliak said Kiev did nothing to stop the raid because “we deeply sympathize with the protest movements in Russia.”
Military expert Marcus Keupp from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich said on Deutschlandradio that an offensive usually begins with testing the enemy’s weak points and with preparatory fire such as artillery and drone attacks.
In the nights leading up to Friday and Saturday there were repeated reports of isolated drone attacks on Russian territory. There had been explosions in the region around Berdiansk. The city is located in southern Ukraine and is currently under Russian occupation. The port city is located on the Sea of Asvo, last year a Russian warship was sunk in an attack here. There were also reports of attacks from occupied Mariupol and Russia’s Belgorod region.
It is up to President Volodymyr Zelensky to decide when and where Ukraine will launch a counter-offensive. It is probably the best-kept state secret at the moment. According to the US magazine Politico, not even the US knows the details.