After being driven back for months, Russia is hoping to reverse its fortunes on the battlefield in Ukraine – and NATO officials have warned that the Kremlin may have already begun the opening moves of a major offensive as its forces seek to tighten the noose around Bakhmut in the country’s east. And it could end quite badly for Russian President Putin.
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Putin Has Big Plans To Strike Back Against Ukraine
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Russia had brought in thousands of fresh troops, even as Kyiv has claimed to have repelled attacks on multiple axes.
In the short term, Russia could have a manpower advantage as it mobilized additional forces last September, and fresh troops – albeit some lacking adequate training and issued with inferior equipment – are now arriving at the frontlines in Ukraine.
For weeks, Western and Ukrainian officials have been warning of an impending major Russian offensive that is meant to break through the lines in the east and south to coincide with the first anniversary of Moscow’s unprovoked invasion.
“I think the reality [is] that we’re seeing the start already,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday.
The NATO chief warned that Russia had brought huge amounts of manpower to the fight, adding, “We see how they are sending in more troops, more weapons, more capabilities, to try to pressure the Ukrainians.”
Stoltenberg said that after a year of fighting, there is little sight that Russian President Vladimir Putin has any interest in peace. Russia may be planning to mobilize an additional 300,000 to 500,000 troops – in addition to the 300,000 that Putin has already mobilized.
Putin’s Next Big Mistake in Ukraine?
Some experts have suggested it would be akin to sending lambs to the slaughter, as Russia’s forces are ill-prepared for the fight ahead.
According to the latest Ukrainian data, Russian soldiers are now dying in the greatest numbers since the first week of the invasion. Upwards of 825 Russian soldiers have been killed daily in February – figures that haven’t been independently confirmed but which the UK’s Ministry of Defence has described as “likely accurate.”
Despite the high losses, Russia has little to show for it.
“Their progress is slow. It’s a war of attrition and taking heavy casualties. Their leadership and morale is not great,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley told reporters on Tuesday. “They’re struggling mightily.”
NATO is now considering additional weapons to help Kyiv counter the current Russian attacks. Already, Ukrainian troops are training in Poland to operate the German-made Leopard 2 main battle tank (MBT).
Coming Soon: A Spring Ukrainian Counteroffensive
Even as Ukraine’s forces must hold the line against Russia’s latest attacks, there is growing speculation that those German MBTs and other advanced armored systems that have been pledged to aid Kyiv would be used in a spring counteroffensive.
“They’re contemplating an offensive in the spring and that’s just weeks away,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters in Brussels this week following a meeting of Ukraine’s Defense Contact Group.
A total of 54 defense ministry delegations met at the latest sitting of the group, and to date, 22 countries have pledged infantry fighting vehicles, while another 16 nations have committed to sending artillery and munitions. Nine nations are also providing air defense systems or ordnance.
However, Ukraine must hold out for a few more weeks and then could be well-suited to launch its own counteroffensive.
What is now certain is that the war shows no signs of ending soon.
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Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.