War in Ukraine: Russia finalizes a triple offensive to occupy all of Donbas and advance on the southern front | International
Almost a year after starting the invasion, Russia is finalizing a new large-scale military assault on Ukraine. The Ukrainian Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, confirmed on Sunday at a press conference what the Western intelligence services and the military at the front have been warning for days: Russian troops are accumulating forces for an imminent triple offensive: from the two provinces that they make up the Donbas region (Lugansk and Donetsk) and from the southern front, in Zaporizhia. The Kremlin's goal, according to the Ukrainian government and independent Russian media, is to conquer the entire eastern Donbas region in the spring.
Reznikov indicated that the Ukrainian authorities hope that Russia will begin its campaign in February, with the aim of taking Donbas completely and, from the front in Zaporizhia, expanding the territory under its control to guarantee the security of the military corridor that connects the land to the Russian border with the Azov Sea and Crimea. EL PAÍS visited the Zaporizhia front last week and different brigades in the zero line of combat concluded that the calm of the last two weeks on the other side of the front indicated that the enemy is accumulating troops and ammunition for an attack.
Officials from the 102nd Brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces in Zaporizhia explained that the Russian objective is not to advance towards the capital of the province, but to besiege the Ukrainian positions in Donetsk from the south. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a reference analysis center for the conflict in Ukraine, reported last week indications of the movement of Russian tanks towards the Zaporizhia front, but to attack on Vuhledar, in Donetsk. The main Russian military effort in Donetsk is taking place in the Battle of Bakhmut, with slow but steady advances. The ISW stresses that the main Russian coup is foreseen on the Lugansk front. Ukraine managed to recapture a small portion of Lugansk in the autumn from Kharkov, after driving the Russians out of this province.
Russia redoubled its bid to conquer Bakhmut in November, and three months later, it still hasn't succeeded. The chances of it occupying all of Donbas during the spring are nil, according to the Ukrainian government.
Both armies have been embarking on a race against the clock since January to prepare their respective offensives for late winter or early spring. In a recent interview with EL PAÍS, Oleksiy Melnik, co-director of the Razumkov defense studies center, explained that time is money, because whoever starts the attack campaign first will force the other side to change their plans. And Russia has taken the lead. The ISW concluded in a January 29 report that delays in the provision of new weapons by international allies would have closed Ukraine's window of opportunity to launch the counteroffensive sooner.
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The setback of prolonging negotiations
The ISW noted that grueling negotiations to supply new air defense systems (without mentioning them explicitly, the ISW was referring to the American Patriot and the Franco-Italian Mamba), heavy tanks and long-range missiles have been a particular setback. The United States last week approved the supply to Ukraine of the GLSDB maximum-precision missiles, with a range of 150 kilometers. The GLSDBs would be essential for the Ukrainian side to disrupt the supply chain of weapons and fuel in the Russian rear, and to destroy enemy army command posts.
Reznikov stressed on Sunday that Russia had adapted its supply chain and high command bases to be out of the range of the Himars, the artillery provided by the United States, with a range of 80 kilometers, and which was key in the Ukrainian counteroffensive. last fall that liberated the western regions of Kherson province. The Defense Minister confirmed that in February they will not be able to count on all the new Western weapons agreed in recent weeks, with special mention of the Leopard tanks that have to be provided by a coalition of 12 countries. Reznikov stressed that it is necessary to train the units that operate this weapon. Sources from the US defense sector pointed out to the Bloomberg agency that the GLSDBs, for example, require a nine-month period before being operational in Ukraine.
Western tanks are essential for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to launch a counteroffensive. Unlike the successes at Kharkiv and Kherson in the summer and autumn, the Russian lines have been fortified and can no longer be broken through with small, fast units of 12 soldiers alone protected by light armored vehicles. Soldiers interviewed by EL PAÍS this January on the Lugansk, Bakhmut and Zaporizhia fronts assured that they have a significant deficit of ammunition for their main weapons, those of Soviet origin. Reznikov guaranteed that his army is accumulating resources to face the Russian offensive.
Northern offensive unlikely
From the Russian side, everything also points to an imminent major offensive. Several sources close to the leadership of their Armed Forces told the independent media this week Vazhnye Istorii and Novaya Gazeta Europe that the offensive is an express wish of the president, Vladimir Putin. "The generals are ready to turn tens of thousands of combatants into mincemeat to please the whim of the high command," reported the informant of the latter newspaper, founded by exiled journalists from the newspaper that received the Nobel Peace Prize last year. .
According to this member of the Russian command in the occupying troops in Ukraine, his forces face two serious problems. The first is that the Ukrainians "receive absolutely accurate data on all our movements from the Western intelligence services," which facilitates their bombardment with long-range weapons. The second, to maintain what was conquered at the cost of great losses due to the stretching of logistics lines and sabotage: "Instead of settlements, we get a lunar landscape with the remains of a population that hates us."
Both the Ukrainian and American intelligence services rule out that Russia could carry out a new offensive from Belarus on kyiv or from its provinces in northern Ukraine, because a number of troops have not been detected that indicate that this operation is possible. According to the comments of the Russian military, optimism does not reign among its ranks. “Plans to reach kyiv have been redrafted, but only because the country's leadership demands it. Nobody believes in its compliance, it will be suicide," another source close to the Ministry of Defense told the newspaper. Vazhnye Istorii. According to his version, the military themselves speak of "panic" because they consider that the Kremlin misevaluates its possibilities and underestimates its scarcity of high-quality weapons.
Another source close to the Russian high command cited by that newspaper stressed that the idea of advancing towards kyiv is absurd and the priority of its generals should be to strengthen the defense on the southern flank, the corridor between Donbas and Crimea. According to the military, the rumors of an offensive from Belarus are only intended to misinform kyiv so that it diverts part of its troops to that front.
Mobilization in Russia
The Russian offensive could be accompanied by the speech that Putin refused to give before Parliament last year despite being a constitutional mandate. In Russia the order to attack is not expected to come on any symbolic date. According to state news agencies, his intervention before the Federal Assembly could take place on February 20 or 21, and the president would not offer any message to the nation for the first year of war on the 24th. In kyiv, however, he assumes that the Kremlin is preparing a coup for the anniversary of the invasion.
Western analysts consulted by EL PAÍS in recent weeks agree that Russian military power in Ukraine rests on two pillars. One is that it has more artillery and ammunition, and the other, that it has many more troops to be sent to the front in almost suicidal waves, in which tactical logic does not prevail, but the simple strategy of occupying a position at the cost of losing human lives. Officially, the Russian Defense Ministry called up 300,000 people in the autumn, to which another 18,000 volunteers would have joined, according to Putin. However, presidential sources told several Russian media that the mobilization decree provides for even one million recruits. The document contains at least one secret clause, although the Kremlin has denied that figure.
The big risk that Putin runs with his new offensive is that the war reaches more and more homes. Although many of the personnel mobilized have been assigned to form a reserve in the rear and have been able to receive minimal training, thousands of other recruits have already been sent directly to the front. "There are no words. I have several acquaintances who were called in October and some of them have died," a 30-year-old Ossetian woman who now lives in Moscow told this newspaper.
In the case of needing more troops after its new offensive, the Kremlin would face a problem. The general and deputy of the State Duma Andrei Guruliov stressed this weekend that he does not see it as feasible to carry out a second mobilization "in at least half a year" due to the limitations of the Russian war industry to supply equipment and weapons. For his part, the chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the upper house of Parliament, Viktor Bondarev, also ruled out a second mobilization "in the short term."
In the opinion of the political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya, "the intrigue about the Russian offensive is a secondary issue, even tricky, now." "The main question is whether the war should be long or short," she adds. As this expert writes on Telegram, the Kremlin is aware of its defeat due to the increase in Western aid to kyiv. Therefore, Putin's objective now, beyond the territory, "is to do everything in his power to prevent the West from realizing this scenario, so he will try to break the logic of rapid war" with his future moves.
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