Ukraine said Sunday it is planning for the possibility of a major Russian offensive this month to coincide with the anniversary of Russia’s February 24 invasion, but says it has the reserves to hold off Moscow’s forces.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told a news conference that Russia could launch the attack for “symbolic” reasons, even though Moscow's forces are not prepared militarily.
"Despite everything, we expect a possible Russian offensive in February,” Reznikov said. “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.”
Reznikov said the Russian offensive would likely be launched in the east – where fighting has been centered for months and Russia is trying to capture all the heavily-industrialized Donbas region — or possibly the south, where it wants to widen its land corridor to the occupied Crimean Peninsula that it illegally annexed in 2014.
The defense chief estimated that Russia had 12,000 troops stationed at Belarusian military bases, a number too small to launch a significant attack into Ukraine's north.
Russian forces have been making incremental advances in the east as Moscow tries to capture the embattled city of Bakhmut, where fighting has raged for weeks.
The United States and other Western governments have pledged billions of dollars in new military assistance, including tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to help Ukraine withstand a new attack as well as to help Kyiv launch a counteroffensive.
"Not all of the Western weaponry will arrive in time,” Reznikov said. “But we are ready. We have created our resources and reserves, which we are able to deploy and with which we are able to hold back the attack."
On the battlefront Sunday, Ukraine said five people were injured in Russian rocket attacks in the central area of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.
Kharkiv’s regional governor, Oleh Syniehubov, said four people were injured when a Russian S-300 missile fell near an apartment block, and another was hurt when a missile hit a university building.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday the situation is becoming tougher in eastern Ukraine, with a fresh wave of Russian shelling in Chernihiv, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk and the Mykolaiv regions.
In his nightly video address, the Ukrainian leader said Russia was “throwing more and more of its forces at breaking down our defense.”
Ukrainian officials said they repelled a renewed Russian assault on the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut on Saturday. Zelenskyy Friday pledged not to “surrender Bakhmut. We will fight as long as we can.”
In a phone conversation Saturday, Zelenskyy discussed the latest situation on the ground in Ukraine with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, with both agreeing on the need to accelerate the arrival of additional military support from the West. They also discussed the long-term capabilities of Ukraine’s armed forces.
The Ukrainian president thanked Sunak and Britain for helping Ukraine. “Now, in the UK, our guys have already started training on Challenger tanks. It's a good vehicle. And it will be a big thing on the battlefield,” Zelenskyy said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said recently the country would receive 120 to 140 Western tanks in a "first wave" of deliveries from a coalition of 12 countries.
Kyiv secured pledges from the West to supply main battle tanks to help fend off Russia's full-scale invasion, with Moscow mounting huge efforts to make incremental advances in eastern Ukraine.
The United States announced Friday it would provide an additional $2.175 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine, including conventional and long-range rockets for U.S.-provided HIMARs, as well as other munitions and weapons. According to a U.S. official, the longer-range, precision-guided rockets would double Ukraine's strike range for the first time since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.