February 24, 2023, will mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin likely expected its “special military operation” to last just a few days, followed by a victory parade, and instead has see well over 100,000 soldiers killed, thousands of tanks destroyed, its Black Sea Fleet flagship sunk, and NATO more unified than ever.
To call the war a failure so far is a vast understatement – yet, Russia hasn’t been defeated.
Moreover, Moscow shows no signs of withdrawing, and is ready to pour more soldiers into the fight.
There are now reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who commemorated the 80th anniversary of the Soviet Red Army’s victory at the Battle of Stalingrad on Thursday, could be preparing to launch a major new offensive in Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia’s military is regrouping, and Kyiv is now expecting an imminent attack.
Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, suggested that a winter offensive could kick off as soon as February 24, perhaps signaling that Moscow would like a do-over from how it launched its initial invasion a year earlier. The attack could also come by February 23, which marks Russia’s Defender of the Fatherland Day. It was first celebrated in 1919 to note the date in 1918 during the Russian Civil War when the first mass draft into the Red Army occurred in Petrograd (St. Petersburg).
Moscow may have mobilized some 500,000 troops for the possible offensive Reznikov suggested. It was last fall that Russia began to call up hundreds of thousands of conscripts, and those newly minted soldiers could soon find themselves on the frontlines.
“We should understand that the threat of a new and another offensive will remain until we defeat Russia,” Yuriy Sak, a senior defense ministry official, told NBC News in an interview Thursday.
Spring is Coming to Ukraine – So Are Offensives
The spring thaw is still several weeks away, but Russia may need to launch an offensive sooner, especially if plans are to employ large numbers of tanks and other heavy vehicles. The Russian forces would need to move those into place while the ground is still frozen and before the spring thaws come.
The “Rasputitsa,” the Russian term for the late fall and early spring seasons of the year when travel on unpaved roads across the vast open plains becomes difficult, didn’t overly impact movements last year. But the wooded ground in the Eastern Donbas, which has been the sight of a month’s long artillery duel, could certainly be impacted by an early thaw.
Russia also continues to press on the city of Bakhmut, considered a strategically important city as well as one of symbolic significance for both sides. Ukrainian commanders are now facing a choice of holding out in the besieged city despite heavy losses and risking encirclement or withdrawing. However, Kyiv seems determined to ensure that Russia isn’t able to regain momentum.
Another threat Ukraine faces is an invasion from Belarus, which could threaten Kyiv again. However, recent reports suggest it is highly unlikely. The Russian ally has remained neutral for the past year, and wouldn’t want to be dragged into the conflict.
It seems instead that Russia will want to reverse its fortunes in the east, possibly to force Ukraine to the peace table. That was the assessment from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, who in his evening address warned, “The enemy is trying to achieve at least something now to show that Russia has some chances on the anniversary of the invasion.”
After a year of fighting, Russia certainly needs to show that it has made some progress in its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
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.