Ukraine has begun a series of attacks against Russian forces working to hold ground in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian and Russian officials, in a possible sign that Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive has finally begun in earnest.
On Monday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced that it thwarted a “large-scale offensive in South Donetsk direction” on five fronts in the region over the weekend.
Ukrainian military officials said on Monday that troops were “moving forward” towards Bakhmut, which Russian and Ukrainian forces have been fighting over for months, the BBC reported.
And now, Ukrainian forces are stepping up their artillery strikes and ground assaults, according to U.S. officials who spoke with The New York Times.
The flurry of developments could be an indication that Ukraine’s rumored counteroffensive push is currently underway. The attacks come as Russia has failed to make major gains in 2023, more than a year into the war on Ukraine.
Determining what constitutes Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been complicated in recent months, given Ukraine’s interests in maintaining an element of surprise in staging its attacks. Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Defense, has suggested that the counteroffensive might come in several pushes as opposed to one major assault on the battlefield.
Ukrainian officials have been hinting that the counteroffensive is coming, though.
“We strongly believe that we will succeed,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview last week with The Wall Street Journal.
The road ahead is not necessarily going to be without challenges, Zelensky acknowledged, adding that if Russia is not stopped it will likely continue its territorial conquest.
“A large number of soldiers will die” since Russia’s air power is superior, Zelensky said.
The Kremlin, for its part, has been working to temper expectations for the war in Ukraine. A manual the Kremlin reportedly distributed to Russian propagandists suggests that Moscow has not underestimated Ukraine’s counteroffensive, and has already outlined a propaganda strategy to shape the narrative within Russia in case Kyiv successfully carries out its attack plans.
The Russians have been preparing for a formidable Ukrainian counteroffensive in other ways for months. Satellite imagery analysis shared with The Daily Beast in January showed Russian defensive preparations for a Ukrainian counteroffensive, revealing the Kremlin's increasing fear about losing the territory it has stolen during the war.