Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP Photo
- Ukraine’s defense minister said that Russia could send 500,000 troops in a renewed assault.
- He said Russia’s taste for “symbolism” could see it happening on the anniversary of the invasion.
- Oleksii Reznikov urged allies to send more weapons and the means to defend against air attacks.
Ukraine’s defense minister predicted that Russia’s anticipated massive new offensive could begin on February 24, the one-year anniversary of the conflict.
Oleksii Reznikov said on Wednesday that Kyiv believes that as many as half a million Russians are preparing to pour into Ukraine as part of the assault, while urging Ukraine’s allies to continue arming its troops.
“We think that, given they live in symbolism, they are going to try to attempt something around February 24,” Reznikov told French TV station BFMTV.
After months of stalemate in the east and the south of the country, Ukraine has been bracing over the winter for a renewed ground invasion.
February 24 is the date on which Russian tanks rolled en masse over the Ukrainian border in 2022. February 23, meanwhile, marks Russia’s Defender of the Fatherland day, a holiday commemorating soldiers.
The propagandistic overtones of an “anniversary” mobilization may be sorely needed by President Vladimir Putin, whose officers initially believed they could take all of Ukraine within a couple of weeks.
Russia has announced it has amassed 300,000 troops, Reznikov said. But, he added, Kyiv believes the new offensive could be powered by more like 500,000 men.
“When we see the troops at the borders, according to our assessments it’s much more,” he said.
Ukraine says it is readying its counter-offensive.
Ukrainian Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov attends a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on November 7, 2022.
Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images
It is not Reznikov’s first comments about a potential new Russian assault.
Predicting a 2023 advance last year, Reznikov scorned Russia’s “meat grinder tactics” that, he said, pitted vast numbers of poorly-trained men against Ukraine’s smaller but nimbler forces.
One Ukrainian soldier near Bakhmut — now one of the fiercest focal points of the war, in eastern Ukraine — recently spoke of those tactics as applied by the Wagner Group, the mercenary army fighting on President Vladimir Putin’s behalf.
Likening the scene to a zombie movie, the soldier, identified only as Andriy, told CNN of a relentless, “uninterrupted” 10-hour assault.
Reznikov made the comments while in France to buy MB-200 air defense radars for Ukraine, according to the BBC.
Urging allies to help Ukraine to maintain the initiative, he echoed Kyiv officials who have, according to The New York Times, redoubled efforts to persuade NATO countries to send fighter jets.